Reporters Without Borders voiced relief after the Kabul High Court on 21 December allowed the release from jail of Ali Mohaqiq Nasab, editor of the magazine Haqoq-e-Zan (Women’s Rights) after reducing a two-year sentence imposed for blasphemy.
His reduction in sentence on appeal to six months - three months and nine days of which were suspended - will allow the journalist, in prison since 1st October, to go free on 22 or 23 December.
Nasab was convicted on 22 October 2005 for reprinting and commenting on articles by an Iranian scholar criticizing the stoning of Muslims who convert to another religion and the use of corporal punishment for offences such as adultery.
The appeal ruling came as several Afghan religious groups were calling for Nasab to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. Two hundred Islamic teachers in the southern city of Kandahar had issued a fatwa demanding that the journalist should be hanged unless he apologized within three days.
"The Kabul High Court’s decision is a defeat for those religious leaders and the prosecutor who were demanding an even harsher penalty against Nasab", Reporters Without Borders said, adding, "The campaign for his release in Afghanistan and abroad was not in vain".
The prosecutor had asked for a heavier penalty for the journalist who is wrongly accused of having abandoned the Muslim religion and refusing to accept that it was a crime to do so. Nasab has always protested his innocence.
"We urge President Hamid Karzai to guarantee that no journalist will be imprisoned in future without going before the Media Commission", the organisation said.
The decision that allowed Nasab to walk free was made by Judge Muzafarudeen Tajali on 21 December. Nasab could have left prison the same day but for technical reasons had to wait until the following day.