KABUL, Afghanistan - The United Nations on Monday criticized a two-year jail sentence given to the editor of a women's magazine for publishing articles deemed anti-Islamic, while a friend expressed concern for his safety in prison.
Ali Mohaqiq Nasab was convicted Saturday after his magazine Haqooq-i-Zan, or Women's Rights, published a series of articles about Islam. One challenged a belief that Muslims who convert to other religions should be stoned to death — as sanctioned by some interpretations of Islamic Shariah law — while another criticized the practice of punishing adultery with 100 lashes.
The United Nations said it was concerned about the case.
"We are certainly following it very closely," U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards said.
Edwards noted that a government-backed media commission that has the responsibility to control the press had exonerated Mohaqiq, but Kabul's Primary Court, which is largely controlled by conservative Islamic clerics, convicted him.
The case underlines the fragility of press freedoms in Afghanistan's nascent democracy and highlights a struggle between religious moderates and extremists over what form Islam will take in the country as it emerges from two decades of conflict and the ouster of the hard-line Taliban in a U.S.-led war in late 2001.
Afghanistan is a conservative Islamic country. Under a revised March 2004 media law signed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, content deemed insulting to Islam is banned. Criminal penalties were left vaguely worded, leaving open the possibility of punishment in accordance with Shariah.
Mohaqiq has appealed the verdict to the Second Court. It was not clear when the case would be heard.
Attempts by The Associated Press to talk to Mohaqiq in prison were barred.
One of the journalist's friends, Mohammed Hasan, an Afghan-American teacher, claimed that no one had been allowed to see him in prison, including his lawyer. At his trial, Mohaqiq represented himself.
"This is a matter of persecution. I fear for his life in prison. His family has not even been able to talk to him. His rights are being withheld," he told AP.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and local media-protection bodies have called for Mohaqiq's immediate release.
"Mohaqiq is innocent. The court has ignored the facts of this case. He is being hounded by the clerics who oppose his moderate views," said Rahimullah Samandari, director of the Afghan Protection of Journalists Committee.