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Pakistan 22 November 2004

Frontier Post staffer released from prison

Munawar Moshin Ali, letters page editor of the English-language daily Frontier Post, has been released from prison in Peshawar after the High Court on 12 November acquitted him of blasphemy charges.

Ali was sentenced to life imprisonment in July 2003, for having "intentionally" published a letter in the 29 January 2001 issued of the newspaper that the authorities viewed as offensive. Through his lawyers Kamran Arif and Zhoorul Haq, Ali managed to convince the judges that he had not known the contents of the letter in question. The court ruled that the prosecution had failed to demonstrate that the offence was deliberate.

Ali told Reporters Without Borders as he left prison, "Now I know what freedom means, after spending nearly four years behind bars".


Journalist gets life sentence for "blasphemy"

Reporters Without Borders expressed outrage today at the "extremely harsh" sentence of life imprisonment imposed by a Pakistani court on Munawar Mohsin, a former sub-editor on The Frontier Post, for blasphemy because he published a reader’s letter considered insulting to Islam and which sparked riots across the country.

"Because he printed something written by someone else does not necessarily mean he agreed with its content in any way," said the organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard. "He simply gave readers space to express their opinions." Ménard called for his immediate release and a speedy review of his trial.

Mohsin, who has been in jail since the letter appeared two and a half years ago, was sentenced on 8 July by the North-West Frontier Province High Court and also fined 50,000 rupees ($900) for publishing the letter. He has several days in which to appeal. Two other staff members of the paper - the then news editor, Aftab Ahmad, and Wajeehul Hassan, who was in charge of its computers - were acquitted. The court issued a warrant for the arrest of the paper’s editor, Mahmood Shah Afridi, who is being sought by police.

The offending letter, which appeared on 29 January 2001 and was from a reader called Ben Dzec, was considered insulting to the Prophet Mohammed. Mohsin, who was in charge of the paper’s letters section, was arrested the same day and imprisoned in Peshawar. Violent demonstrations protesting against the letter broke out all over the country and religious extremists set fire to the paper’s printing press in Peshawar. The government suspended the paper for two months.

Blasphemy is punishable by death under Pakistani law but such a sentence has never been applied.

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