October 3, 2008

His Excellency Hamid Karzai

President of the Islamic State of Afghanistan
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to protest the sentences handed down to journalist Ahmed Ghous Zalmai and publisher Mohammad Ateef Noori.

According to our information, on September 11, 2008, a court in Kabul sentenced Ahmed Ghous Zalmai to 20 years in prison alongside Mullah Qari Mushtaq, leader of the Tamim-e-Ansar Mosque, for “publishing the Koran in a Dari translation” under Article 130 of the Afghan Constitution. Mohammad Ateef Noori reportedly received a five-year sentence for his role in the publication. The case reportedly stems from the failure to print the Arabic original of the Koran alongside the translation, as required by Islamic law in Afghanistan, and for alleged errors and misunderstandings in the translation. All three men are currently being held at a detention center in Kabul, and are appealing their convictions.

Ahmed Ghous Zalmai claims that a copy of the translation was brought to the Tamim-e-Ansar Mosque in 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 head of the Publication Department of the Attorney General’s Office to find a way to publish more copies. 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. Mohammad Ateef Noori was detained on November 18, 2007, and Mullah Mushtaq was detained on June 10, 2008.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that the criminal convictions of Ahmed Ghous Zalmai, Mullah Qari Mushtaq and Mohammad Ateef Noori are in violation of their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We therefore respectfully call upon you to personally intervene to secure the release of these three men immediately and unconditionally.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems   
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: His Exellency Said Tayeb Jawad
Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States
The Embassy of Afghanistan
2341 Wyoming Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 483-6488

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