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Jail upheld in Afghan Koran case

Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai (left) and Mushtaq Ahmad (11/01/09)
Several Muslim clerics condemned the men's actions as blasphemous

An Afghanistan appeal court has upheld 20-year jail terms for two men who published a translation of the Koran.

The prosecution said the translation contained mistakes and called for the defendants to be executed.

The men were convicted of modifying the Muslim holy book into Persian while not including the original Arabic text.

Critics have said the trial illustrates the influence of hard-line clerics in Afghanistan. The men plan to appeal to the country's highest court.

One of the defendants, Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, a former government official, said he did not know the translation contained mistakes.

He said he only wanted to serve Islam and the translation had been done by an Iranian living in the United States.

The other defendant, Mushtaq Ahmad, a Muslim cleric, signed a letter endorsing the translation.

Condemnation

There is no law in Afghanistan prohibiting the translation of the Koran but modification is viewed as violating Islamic Shariah law.

The offending translation was published in 2007 and handed out for free.

It prompted a host of clerics in Afghanistan to condemn its publication as blasphemous.

Together with the prosecution they had called for the death penalty, but the three-judge panel upheld a lower court's decision to sentence them each to 20 years' imprisonment.

Meanwhile, the appeal court reduced the sentence of the owner of the print shop which published the book from five years to 15 months, time which he has already served.

Three other men, charged with trying to help Zalmai flee the country, were sentenced to just over seven months, also time already served, according to the AP news agency.

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