Afghanistan: Women's rights editor Mohaqiq Nasar arrested for blasphemy

Mohaqiq Nasar (50), editor-in-chief of the magazine Hoqooq-i-Zan (Women's Rights), has been arrested on 29 September 2005 on charges of blasphemy. He was detained on instructions from the religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, a government official said. President Karzai's religious adviser - though not explicitly named in this connection - is Mohaibuddin Baloch. The editor's arrest is violating the press law of Afghanistan, which clearly demands that a journalist can only be arrested after the government appointed media-commission has studied the case, questioned him personally and recommended his arrest. This has obviously not happened. In a letter to President Karzai, Rationalist International strongly condemned the illegal arrest of Mohaqiq Nasar and the act of violation of press freedom and demanded the immediate release of the editor and the withdrawal of all blasphemy charges against him.

Nasar has been publishing his women's rights magazine since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 and contributed much to the change of women's lives in his country that could be achieved since then. His magazine has always been a thorn in the flesh of the fundamentalist clergy and he was facing pressure from them. Before the parliamentary elections on 18 September, Nasar published an article, criticizing the draconian punishments for blasphemy, adultery and theft in Afghanistan's penal law today. This article was used as a reason for the editor's illegal arrest a few days after the election. Nasar's article has been referred as potentially blasphemous to the Supreme Court.

Quite as it had been under the Taliban, blasphemy is still punishable with death, adultery with public stoning to death and theft with cutting off hands. In fact, the new Constitution, adopted in January 2004, demands confirmity of all laws with the beliefs and provisions of Islam, that is with the laws of Sharia. The Supreme Court in Afghanistan can straightly take open blasphemy trials against alleged offenders proposed by the government and decide their punishment. Head of the Supreme Court is the country's Chief Justice, the hardline cleric Fazl Hadi Shinwadi, who is notorious for his ruthless action against critics of Sharia. In 2003, he forced a sitting minister to resign, after she questioned the role of Sharia in the new Afghanistan. Before the presidential elections in 2004, he "disqualified" a running presidential candidate for blasphemy. As the head of the Fatwa department of the Supreme Court, which is even under the new Consitution the final authority to determine the confirmity of legislation to Islam, he ordered in August 2003 death penalty for Sayed Mir Hussein Mahdavi, Chief Editor of the weekly Aftab, and his Iranian assistant Ali Reza Payam Sistany [Bulletin # 111/1]. The fate of the two journalists is not known, but it is believed that they escaped to Paksitan.

[Bulletin # 148]