Reporters Without Borders today condemned the detention of Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, the chief editor of the monthly Haqoq-e-Zan (Women’s Rights), who was arrested on 1 October on the orders of the Kabul public prosecutor following pressure from conservative leaders. Contrary to legal requirements, the Media Evaluation Commission was not consulted about his arrest.
“While the press is required to respect Afghanistan’s official religion, authorities cannot assume the right to arrest those who peacefully express their views about Islam,” the press freedom organisation said. “We also regret that the authorities again failed to respect the laws in force concerning press offences.”
Pointing out that Nasab poses no danger to Afghanistan’s security, Reporters Without Borders called on the public prosecutor’s office to release him on bail as soon possible.
This is not the first time that religious leaders have had journalists arrested. Sayeed Mahdawi and Ali Reza Payam of the weekly Aftab were arrested in August 2003 and then threatened with death sentences by the supreme court after publishing articles criticism religious extremists.
In Nasab’s case, two articles in particular provoked the ire of Shiite clerics. One criticised the severity of Islamic law, especially the punishment of 100 lashes for those found guilty of adultery. The other suggested that abandonment of Islam could not be considered a crime. Afghan conservatives are currently campaigning for the adoption of the penalties envisaged by the Sharia.
A number of conservative leaders had pressed Mohaiuddin Baluch, President Hamid Karzai’s adviser on religious affairs, for sanctions to be taken against Haqoq-e-Zan. Baluch took the view that the articles were “directly contrary to the principles of the Koran.” The supreme court president reportedly asked the public prosecutor to open an investigation. And it was then that the prosecutor ordered Nasab’s arrest.
Aged 50, Nasab was at first held in the Kabul police station, but was transferred to the city’s main prison after an initial interrogation. The prosecutor said he had no Afghan identity document.