The United Nations on Monday criticized a two-year prison sentence given to the editor of a women's magazine for publishing articles deemed anti-Islamic, while a friend expressed concern for the journalist's safety in prison.
Ali Mohaqiq Nasab was convicted Saturday after his magazine, Haqooq-i-Zan, or Women's Rights, published a series of articles on Islam. One challenged a belief that Muslims who convert to other religions should be stoned to death -- as sanctioned by some interpretations of sharia, or Islamic law -- while another criticized the practice of punishing adultery with 100 lashes.
A U.N. spokesman said the organization was concerned about the case. "We are certainly following it very closely," said the spokesman, Adrian Edwards.
Edwards noted that a government-backed media commission responsible for controlling the press had exonerated Nasab but that 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. It also highlights a struggle between religious moderates and extremists over what form Islam will take in the country.
Under a revised March 2004 media law, content deemed insulting to Islam is banned. Criminal penalties were left vaguely worded, leaving open the possibility of punishment in accordance with sharia.
Nasab has appealed the verdict. It was not clear when the case would be heard.
A friend of Nasab's, Mohammed Hasan, an Afghan American teacher, said no one had been allowed to see the journalist in prison, including his attorney. At his trial, Nasab represented himself.
"This is a matter of persecution," Hasan said. "I fear for his life in prison. His family has not even been able to talk to him. His rights are being withheld."