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article imageAfghanistan: possible death penalty for translating the Quran

By Tabatha Kaplan     Feb 6, 2009 in World
Six men have been imprisoned in Afghanistan after publishing a translation of the Quran. Two of them are facing the death penalty.
Six men are in prison in Afghanistan - and two are begging judges not to impose the death penalty. And all because of a pocket-size translation of the Quran, which turned up in a Kabul mosque. Nobody has admitted to owning it. Now these six men stand accused of 'modifying' the text and their fates will be pronounced on Sunday.
The translation of the Quran was discovered among presents left for a cleric at a Kabul mosque in September 2007. An attached note gave persmission for the book to be reprinted.
Some of the mosque's members said it would be helpful for Afghans who didn't know Arabic, so they began collecting money to have the book reprinted. The mosque's cleric asked an old friend,
Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, to help with the project.
But after one thousand copies were distributed, the problems began.
Many clerics dismissed the book, for not including the original Arabic verses along with the translation. Afghanistan's Islamic Council publicly condemned the book. And Zalmai now stands accused of trying to establish himself as a 'prophet'.
"In all the mosques in Afghanistan, all the mullahs said, 'Zalmai is an infidel. He should be killed,'" Zalmai recounted as he sat outside the chief judge's chambers waiting for a recent hearing.
Zalmai was condemned by colleagues and even by others involved in the book's printing. A mob stoned his house one night, said his brother, Mahmood Ghaws.
Police arrested Zalmai as he was attempting to escape to Pakistan, along with three other men the government says were trying to help him. The publisher and the mosque's cleric, who signed a letter endorsing the book, were also jailed.
There is no law in Afghanistan prohibiting the translation of the Quran. But Zalmai is accused of violating Islamic Sharia law by modifying the Quran. The courts in Afghanistan, an Islamic state, are empowered to apply Sharia law when there are no applicable existing statutes.
Afzal Shurmach Nooristani, whose Afghan Legal Aid group is defending Zalmai, says that the courts seem determined to be tough on those accused of religious crimes.
The prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for Zalmai and the cleric; both of whom have now spent more than a year in prison.
And this is not an isolated incident. In January 2008, a court sentenced a journalism student to death for blasphemy for asking questions about women's rights under Islam. An appeals court reduced the sentence to 20 years in prison. His lawyers appealed again and the case is still pending.
In 2006, an Afghan man was sentenced to death for converting to Christianity. He was later ruled insane and was given asylum in Italy. Islamic leaders and the parliament accused President Hamid Karzai of being a puppet for the West for letting him live.
More about Islam, Sharia, Afghanistan, Death penalty
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