Afghanistan: Heavy sentences for publishers

English PEN strongly protests the sentences handed down to journalist Ahmed Ghous Zalmai, and publisher Mohammad Ateef Noori, for publishing a translation of the Koran.

According to our information, journalist Ahmed Ghous Zalmai was sentenced to twenty years in prison alongside Mullah Qari Mushtaq, leader of the Tamim-e-Ansar Mosque, by a court in Kabul on 11 September 2008 under Article 130 of the Afghan Constitution for ‘publishing the Koran in a Dari translation’. Publisher Mohammad Ateef Noori was reportedly handed down a five-year sentence.


Dari is a Farsi dialect spoken in Afghanistan, and Article 130 renders Sharia law applicable to the case. It is said that the case stemmed from the failure to print the Arabic original of the Koran alongside the translation, as reportedly required by Islamic law in Afghanistan, and for alleged errors and misunderstandings in the translation.


The translation in question was carried out by an Iranian living in the United States, and is publically available on the Internet: Zalmai claims that a copy of the translation was brought to the Tamim-e-Ansar Mosque, Kabul, by an unknown individual in September 2007, and was very well received by those present at the gathering. He was asked to use his position as a well-known journalist and head of the publication department of the Attorney General’s office to find a way to publish more copies of the translation. After obtaining Mullah Qari Mushtaq’s approval, he found a publisher. However, following the publication of the translation, fundamentalist groups, parliamentarians and clerics demanded an ‘exemplary punishment’ for those involved in the publication. Zalmai was arrested in October 2007 as he was trying to flee the country. His publisher Mohammad Ateef Noori was detained on 18 November 2007, and Mullah Mushtaq on 10 June 2008, and were sentenced on 11 September. All three men are currently held at a detention centre in Kabul, and are appealing their conviction.

Ahmed Ghous Zalmai has previously worked as TV and radio journalist, and headed the Afghanistan National Journalist Association. Mullah Qari Mushtaq is leader of Tamim-e-Ansar Mosque and said to be a well-respected religious figure.


English PEN considers their conviction to be in breach of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.


For more analysis of the case click here:


Please send appeals:


• Protesting the detention of Ahmed Ghous Zalmai, Mullah Qari Mushtaq and Mohammad Ateef Noori;
• Calling on President Karzai to personally intervene to secure the release of the three men immediately and unconditionally, according to Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Civil and Political Rights.


Appeals to:


His Excellency Hamid Karzai
President of the Islamic State of Afghanistan
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.



Mr Hameed Nasry Wardak
Ministry of Information and Cultural Affairs


Mr Humayun Hamidzada
Spokesperson for President Karzai


If possible, please also send appeals c/o the Ambassador for Afghanistan, asking for their comments:

His Excellency Dr Rahim Sherzoy
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
31 Prince’s Gate
London SW7 1QQ
Fax: 020 7584 4801


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