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Afghanistan appeals court upholds prison sentence for Koran translators

[JURIST] An appeals court in Afghanistan on Sunday upheld a lower court's decision to sentence two men convicted of translating the Koran to 20 years in prison. The three-judge panel ruled [AP report] that the men were guilty of modifying the Koran, but did not issue the maximum punishment of death. Muslim clerics [JURIST news archive] viewed the free distribution of the translated Koran as blasphemous, and have been calling for the execution of Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, a former spokesman for the attorney general, and Mushtaq Ahmad, a Muslim cleric who signed a letter endorsing the translation, since their arrest in 2007. The court based its decision on Islamic Shariah law, highlighting the lack of secular statutes for the court to consider, and providing another example of the influence clerics have in the Afghan legal system. Zalmai's attorney indicated that both men plan to appeal to the Supreme Court of Afghanistan [official website].

The Afghan justice system continues to be viewed as a target for the country's rebel leaders, putting pressure on judges to act in their favor. Last week, Taliban [JURIST news archive] insurgents targeted [JURIST report] the Afghan Ministry of Justice [official website], the Prisons Directorate, and other government buildings in Kabul. In October, an Afghan appeals court sentenced [AP report] a journalism student to 20 years for asking questions about women's rights under Islam. Muslim clerics considered the acts blasphemous, and conducted public demonstrates because the student violated the tenets of Islam. In September, Central Narcotics Tribunal Appeals Court Judge Alim Hanif was killed in Kabul [UPI report]. In early August, a judge in southern Helmand province [AFP report] and the chief judge of Khost province [VOA report] were shot and killed by unidentified gunmen said to be connected to the Taliban.

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