Reporters Without Borders today protested against the decision of the Afghanistan prosecutor general to continue the detention of journalist Nazari Paryani, head of news pages on the daily Payman.
He has been imprisoned at the remand jail in Kabul since 13 January 2009. “The newspaper mistakenly published an article containing ambiguous judgements about religions, but Nazari Paryani had no direct responsibility for this”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
Police raided the headquarters of the paper in Kabul on 13 January and arrested seven journalists, including Paryani, for the publication of a “blasphemous article” three days previously ". Six journalists were released after a few hours but Paryani remained in custody.
Despite interventions by leaders of Afghanistan’s National Union of Journalists, who were able to visit him in detention, the authorities refused, on 20 January to free him on bail although no charge had been laid against him.
A delegation from Reporters Without Borders which happened to be in Kabul at the time, also made representations on his behalf to the information ministry.
“Since Payman has apologised, the journalist should be freed. Reading the published article, it is hard to understand the authorities’ hounding of Payman,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We are disturbed by the excessive politicisation of cases linked to the protection of the official religion,” the organisation added.
Justice officials have also issued an arrest warrant against the paper’s editor, Syed Ahmad Hashemi, who is currently abroad.
Journalists in Kabul said the detention was aimed at pleasing the Ulemas council, the president of which, Mullah Molavi Shinwari, released a statement the day after the article was published condemning the paper’s ‘Islamophobia’.
An employee at Payman was confused by an almost identical headline on an editorial written for the paper and a text written before her death by a Bulgarian clairvoyant and posted on the website www.kharam.com , which contained some prophesies on Islam which were seen as insulting.
The paper carried an apology in the following day’s edition, saying that “journalists on Payman are all Muslims and have never insulted religious beliefs”.
The newspaper is critical of the government. It regularly carries articles on corruption. Its editorial staff have been threatened on several occasions and the trade ministry recently summoned a journalist to his office to “seek an explanation” for an investigation.
A member of Payman’s management, Mahsa Taee, told Reporters Without Borders that “the newspaper is being held hostage by politics and the government which is behind this case. The media regulatory commission usually rules on these press cases and should decide whether a case goes before the courts. But the prosecutor decided to intervene himself”.