International PEN strongly protests the 20-year prison sentence handed down to journalist Ahmed Ghous Zalmai, and the five-year sentence handed down to publisher Mohammad Ateef Noori, for publishing a translation of the Koran. 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.

Background Information

According to PEN’s information, on September 11, 2008 a court in Kabul sentenced journalist 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. Dari is a Farsi dialect spoken in Afghanistan, and Article 130 renders Sharia law applicable to the case. 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.

The translation in question was carried out by an Iranian living in the United States, and is publicly available on the Internet. 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 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 November 18, 2007, and Mullah Mushtaq on June 10, 2008. Mullah Mushtaq was also sentenced to 20 years in prison. All three men are currently being held at a detention center 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.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the detention of Ahmed Ghous Zalmai, Mullah Qari Mushtaq and Mohammad Ateef Noori;
  • Calling on President Karzai to personnaly 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.

Send Your Letter 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
Tel: +93 700 989 696
E-mail: [email protected]

Mr. Humayun Hamidzada
Spokesperson for President Karzai
Tel: +93 797 163 355
E-mail: [email protected]

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Afghanistan in your country if possible.

Please check with PEN if sending appeals after October 15, 2008: ftw [at]