Press watchdog urges release of Afghan writers

PARIS Thu Jan 17, 2008 7:02pm GMT

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PARIS (Reuters) - The worldwide media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RsF) called on Kabul on Thursday to save an Afghan journalist whom religious leaders want executed and release a man under arrest for publishing a Koran in translation.

RsF said the Council of Mullahs had called for death for Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a journalism student at Balkh University in northern Afghanistan, for writing articles about the role of women in Islam that they said insulted the Muslim faith.

"The calls for the death penalty for Kambakhsh highlight the growing influence of fundamentalist groups on intellectual debate," it said in a statement.

RsF also appealed for the release of Ghaus Zalmai, who was arrested in November for publishing the Koran in the local language Dari (Afghan Persian) which, according to the religious leaders, misinterpreted verses about adultery and begging.

The translation into Dari sparked an emergency debate in parliament and protests in at least two parts of the country. Muslims consider the Koran in Arabic as the literal word of God.

"Parliamentarians have even accused him of being 'worse than Salman Rushdie'," RsF added, referring to the British author whose book The Satanic Verses prompted the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to urge Muslims in 1989 to kill him.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in Islam and Afghanistan is a deeply conservative Islamic country.

Since the ouster of Taliban's radical Islamic government in 2001, dozens of newspapers and other publications, some funded by foreigners, have sprung up in Afghanistan which is going through a wave of press freedom unprecedented in its history.

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