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Afghanistan: Appeals Court Upholds 20-Year Sentence for Koran Translators

(June 15, 2009) A court in Afghanistan sentenced two men to 20 years of imprisonment for modifying the Koran in their Dari-language translation of the religious book, sparing them the maximum punishment. An appeals court upheld the decision. The crime of modification of the Holy Quran is punishable by death.

The defendants were Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, a former spokesman for the Attorney General of Afghanistan, and Mushtaq Ahmad, a Muslim cleric who had signed a letter endorsing the translation. The court based its decision on Islamic Shariah law. The two men were arrested in 2007. The attorney for the translator said that both men are planning to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Afghanistan.

In another case that illustrates the role of religious leaders in the judicial system of the country, in October 2008, a student of journalism was sentenced to 20 years in prison for asking questions about women's rights under Shariah. Some Islamic clerics considered the student's questions blasphemous and held demonstrations demanding a stiffer punishment, because in their view the student had violated the tenets of Islam. (Afghanistan Appeals Court Upholds Prison Sentence for Koran Translators, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST, Feb. 16, 2009, available at