Editor Resumes Fight for a Free Press

Ali Mohaqeq Nasab, released after a spell in prison for blasphemy, returns to the helm of his magazine.

Editor Resumes Fight for a Free Press

Ali Mohaqeq Nasab, released after a spell in prison for blasphemy, returns to the helm of his magazine.

Ali Mohaqeq Nasab seems to thrive on controversy. Just one month after being released from prison, he is back at the very activity that landed him in trouble in the first place: editing his Women’s Rights magazine.

Wearing traditional Afghan clothing - a white turban, a white “pirhan-tunbon” (long shirt and loose trousers) and a black quilted robe or “chapan” - Nasab, 47, sat at his cluttered desk in his old office, sifting through books and papers.

He seemed eager to get back to business.

“I am very busy preparing materials,” he said. “Soon I want to publish the new edition of Huquq-e-zan [Women’s Rights].”

Nasab was arrested on October 1, 2005, for publishing materials deemed critical of Islam. He was charged with blasphemy for questioning religious precepts such as harsh punishments for adultery, fornication, apostasy and theft.

His case attracted the attention of media groups both at home and abroad, with organisations as diverse as the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists appealing for his release.

Nasab was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, but was freed on December 24, 2005, by the Kabul Court of Appeal, after expressing regret for any trouble his magazine may have caused.

But despite what many see as a forced apology, Nasab is unrepentant, and determined to carry on his activities.

“I stand by my words,” he said. “I will write similar articles in the future.”

He is bitter about his ordeal and hints that there may have been political motives behind his detention. “This article was just a pretext to arrest me. There were people behind this action,” he said, declining to name those he thought were responsible.

Nasab, who a law graduate with a master’s degree in religious jurisprudence, defended himself at his widely publicised trial.

He said that based on his own experience, he does not have high hopes for media freedom in Afghanistan.

“Unfortunately, we do not have a brilliant record in the area of press freedom,” he said. “People should have as much freedom of expression as possible under the law, so that everyone can express his opinion without being threatened.”

Some thought Nasab would move abroad after his release. “Many countries have offered me asylum,” he said. “But I never intended to go.”

Instead, he just wants to get back to his magazine. The media commission that removed him in October has since reinstated him as editor.

Huquq-e-zan was not published while Nasab was in prison. Some staff left for other jobs, but they are now coming back, he said.

His sojourn in jail was unpleasant, but Nasab says he was not mistreated.

“The worst thing they did was to shave my head like a common criminal right after my arrest,” he said.

Television broadcasts immediately after his arrest showed Nasab, bowed and silent, sitting shackled in the courtroom. But within a few days he had regained his spirit, and was engaging in heated arguments with the prosecutor.

Nasab claimed that there had been a plan to assassinate him inside the prison, but that security officials foiled the attempt.

“Some of the prisoners were instructed by people outside to kill me,” he said. “Fortunately, they did not succeed.”

Now free, Nasab is not worried about his safety.

“I have not faced any security problems since I was released,” he smiled. “Instead, the number of my friends has increased.”

Abdul Baseer Saeed is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.
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