Death for Stand-Alone Translation of Koran in Afghan? 20 Years
UPDATE: Not this time, just 20 years in prison!
Chief judge Abdul Salam Qazizada invoked Islamic Shariah law when reading out the sentence, saying death would not have been an extreme punishment.
"He who commits such an act is an infidel and should be killed" according to some interpretations of Shariah law, Qazizada said.
The appeals court found the men guilty of modifying the Quran — a crime punishable by death. However, the three-judge panel reiterated a lower court ruling giving the men 20 years each.
The prosecutor had asked for the death penalty for the two men — Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, a former spokesman for the attorney general, and Mushtaq Ahmad, a Muslim cleric who signed a letter endorsing the translation.
The appeals court reduced the sentence of the owner of the print shop that published the book to 15 months, which he has already served, from five years. Three other men charged with trying to help Zalmai flee the country were sentenced to just over seven months, also time already served.
KABUL - No one knows who brought the book to the mosque, or at least no one dares say.
The pocket-size translation of the Quran has already landed six men in prison in Afghanistan and left two of them begging judges to spare their lives. They're accused of modifying the Quran and their fate could be decided Sunday in court.
The trial illustrates what critics call the undue influence of hardline clerics in Afghanistan, a major hurdle as the country tries to establish a lawful society amid war and militant violence.
"We went to all the lawyers and they said, 'We can't help you because all the mullahs are against you. If we defend you, the mullahs will say that we should be killed.' We went six months without a lawyer," Zalmai said outside the judge's chambers.
The publisher was originally sentenced to five years in prison. Zalmai and the cleric were sentenced to 20, and now the prosecutor is demanding the death penalty for the two as a judge hears appeals.
Zalmai pleaded for forgiveness before a January hearing, saying he had assumed a stand-alone translation wasn't a problem.
"You can find these types of translations in Turkey, in Russia, in France, in Italy," he said.
The book appeared among gifts left for the cleric at a major Kabul mosque after Friday prayers in September 2007. It was a translation of the Quran into one of Afghanistan's languages, with a note giving permission to reprint the text as long as it was distributed for free.
Some of the men of the mosque said the book would be useful to Afghans who didn't know Arabic, so they took up a collection for printing. The mosque's cleric asked Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, a longtime friend, to get the books printed.
But as some of the 1,000 copies made their way to conservative Muslim clerics in Kabul, whispers began, then an outcry.
Many clerics rejected the book because it did not include the original Arabic verses alongside the translation. It's a particularly sensitive detail for Muslims, who regard the Arabic Quran as words given directly by God. A translation is not considered a Quran itself, and a mistranslation could warp God's word.
'Zalmai is an infidel. He should be killed'
The clerics said Zalmai, a stocky 54-year-old spokesman for the attorney general, was trying to anoint himself as a prophet.
Nearly everyone in court claims ignorance now.
The mosque's mullah says he never read the book and that he was duped into signing the letter. The print shop owner says neither he nor any of his employees read the book, noting that it's illegal for them to read materials they publish.
Is this an extreme example of 'Throwing under the bus', or not?