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Afghanistan Releases 2 Journalists Detained for Controversial Article - 2003-06-25

Authorities in Afghanistan have released two journalists detained for allegedly defaming Islam.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered the two journalists released on bail, but the charges against them still stand.

Mir Hussein Mehdavi, chief editor of the Aftaab weekly, and his Iranian deputy Ali Riza Payam were taken into custody last week for publishing an article considered offensive to Islam and contravening the country's press laws.

The controversial article, entitled "Holy Fascism," was critical of some Afghan politicians who also head religious factions. The article complained about a lack of progress in the Muslim world, and called for secular government in Afghanistan, which is at present is officially Islamic.

President Karzai says he has ordered an investigation to clarify whether or not the article violated the Afghan constitution or the press law.

Wednesday's release of the two journalists came after the United Nations and human rights organizations expressed doubts about the legal grounds for the arrests. These organizations say the charges were politically motivated, and constituted an attack on freedom of the press.

The chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court says President Karzai ordered the two men's release because they repented and regretted what they had done. But Chief Justice Mawlavi Fazal Hadi said the two men have not been acquitted or pardoned, and will be summoned to court to answer the allegations.

Islam is the national faith of Afghanistan, and defaming the religion or criticizing religious leaders remain extremely sensitive topics.