Afghan Court Upholds 20-Year Sentence for Two Convicted of Translating Quran without Original Arabic Text

February 2009 – Kabul

On 15 February 2009, an Afghan appeals court upheld 20-year sentences for two men who helped to publish an Afghan translation of the Quran without including the original Arabic text. In 2007, Ahmed Ghaws Zalmai, a former spokesman for the Attorney General, helped to print 1,000 copies of the translation, and Qari Mushtaq Ahmed, a cleric, signed a letter endorsing the translation. Several clerics condemned the book because of the omission of the original Arabic text, claiming it was a replacement, rather than a translation, of the Quran, and the Afghan Islamic counsel issued an edict condemning the book. While there is no law in Afghanistan prohibiting the translation or printing of the Quran without the accompanying Arabic text, courts are permitted to use Islamic Shariah law when there is no applicable statute. Before the 15 February decision, the Institute on Religion and Public Policy urged Afghan authorities to drop charges against the two men. “Under the universal right of freedom of religious expression and even the Constitution of Afghanistan, these men violated no law in translating the Quran as they did,” said Institute President Joseph K. Grieboski. “Such disputes on religious practice or theology should remain within the confines of the faith, without the state or its judiciary becoming involved or handing down verdicts.”