Reporters Without Borders today called on President Hamid Karzai to intercede after a Kabul court sentenced Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, the editor of the monthly publication Haqoq-e-Zan (Women's Rights), to two years in prison at the end of a summary trial on blasphemy charges on 22 October.
“A journalist has been given a stiff prison sentence for a press offence in violation of international treaties signed by Afghanistan,” the press freedom organisation said. “It is extremely disturbing to see a man sentenced to prison simply for reprinting articles condemning such archaic practices as stoning and corporal punishments.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “President Karzai must intercede to obtain Nasab's release and have this miscarriage of justice corrected.”
Nasab was prosecuted for reprinting articles by an Iranian scholar criticising the stoning of Muslims who convert to another religion and the use of corporal punishment for persons accused of such offences as adultery.
An Afghan journalist present at the 22 October hearing before a Kabul lower court told Reporters without Borders that Nasab was interrogated by the prosecutor and judges without any defence lawyer being present. The judges refused Nasab's request for a further adjournment to let him prepare his defence, and refused to free him on bail. The hearing lasted only an hour and a half.
He appeared haggard after weeks of imprisonment, as he had during earlier hearings starting on 11 October when he was subjected to a series of tirades from the prosecutor.
The court issued its verdict and sentence just minutes after the end of the hearing on 22 October and told Nasab he could appeal. Nasab has condemned the entire proceedings on the grounds that he should have been tried by a special court for press offences. The police took him to Kabul prison from the court. Previously, he had been held in a police station since his arrest on 1 October on the state prosecutor's orders.
Aged 50, Nasab is a Shiite who sympathises with the ideas of Iranian Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, an opponent of the Islamic regime led by Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei. Several Afghan Shiite dignitaries had been pressing for his arrest and prosecution.
The Media Commission, which under Afghan law is supposed to try press offences, has meanwhile announced that it no longer recognises him to be a magazine editor. The commission had nonetheless recommended dropping the blasphemy charges.