Reporters sans borders concerned over closure of weekly Aftab
PESHAWAR- Reporters Without Borders voiced concern on June 20th, 2003 about the closure of the privately-owned weekly Aftab and the arrest of the its editor and deputy editor on June 17 for blasphemy because they published articles calling for a moderate interpretation of Islam and for its adaptation to the modern world in the wording of the new Afghan constitution.
It is regrettable and worrying for the future of freedom of expression in Afghanistan to see a newspaper closed down and two journalists arrested for voicing their views on Islam’s place in the countryÂ’s future constitution, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Menard said. He called on President Hamid Karzai to intervene to get them released and the newspaper reopened as soon as possible.
The Kabul supreme court’s council of ulema (religious leaders) voiced outrage at articles in AftabÂ’s latest issue on 11 June. In a column headlined Holy fascism, editor Sayeed Mirhassan Mahdawi criticized Islam as it is currently practiced and linked the social and economic backwardness of Islamic societies to its archaic character. He also criticised ethnic crimes committed in Islam’s name, especially by former Mujahideen chiefs. Another article in the same issue said Islam as practised in Afghanistan was contrary to democracy and to its citizens social and to its citizens social and political rights.
Calling the articles an offence to Islam the supreme court asked for Aftab to be closed and its editor to be prosecuted. The government on June 17 order the newspaper’s closure and Mahdawi’s arrest for blasphemy Mahdawi and his deputy Ali Payam Sestani, an Iranian national, have been detained since then in Kabul. They have not so far been mistreated.
A special commission for press freedom and news media evaluation has the job of determining their degree of responsibility before referring the case to the judicial authorities. The Aftab’s offices have, meanwhile, been closed. Copies of the latest issue were confiscated from several stands in the city.
The information and culture ministry have gone to great lengths to defend the Supreme Court’s position. Several articles in the latest issue of the Aftab were blasphemous. It was our duty to stop this newspapers publication, said deputy information and culture minister Hamid Mobarez.
With a circulation in Kabul of only several hundred, the Dari-language weekly is critical of the present government and the Mujahideen chiefs. It has also often accused warlords and Mujahideen of crime. Mahdawi, who lived for a long time in Iran and comes form the Shiite minority, produces the Aftab with the help of several Iranian journalists.
Source: The Nation