Ahmed Zalmai, a famous Afghan journalist and the director of the National Union Journalists of Afghanistan, has been under arrest since October 2007. He was accused of reprinting the "Quran e Paak," a version of the Holy Quran translated entirely from Arabic into Dari.
Afghanistan's media have come a long way since decreeing freedom of the press in 2002
The Farsi edition of the Koran had been published in the United States but appeared in Afghanistan without its original Arabic text alongside.
Since the publication of "Quran e Paak", there have been demonstrations and objections in Afghanistan against its publisher and editor by religious societies, mainly in Kabul. These demonstrators claimed that this translated version contains mistakes and misinterpretations of the Holy Quran.
Mr Zalmai, who is believed to have been behind the reprinting, was apparently arrested on the orders of the Attorney General of Afghanistan, Zabar Sabit, perceived to be an overly religious man and a Taliban sympathizer. Mr Zalmai has been imprisoned without any formal charges and has been given no access to a lawyer.
It is widely believed by independent journalists that he is paying the price for being a liberal and a supporter of Western values of religious and social freedoms. "Freedom of speech has been ensured in the constitution of Afghanistan and has been guaranteed in the constitution, while it wasn't even mentioned during the Taliban's rein," said Halim Fidai, the President of the South Asia Free Media Association in Kabul.
Mr Fidai believes that whether guilty as charged or not, Mr. Zalmai must be given a proper trial: "The process should be fair, transparent and just, and that will be our utmost struggle.” He added: “We are pushing to have a fair, open trial of this case."
But Mr. Fidai said that a new democracy like Afghanistan had a long way to go to make freedom of speech a reality for all, but that the Afghan press was generally much freer compared to the Taliban era: “I don't see this incident to nullify freedom of speech in the country."
"Today, in Afghanistan there are many indicators of freedom of speech in the country,”he continued. “We now have 16 independent TV channels while during the Taliban, we had none. We now have 279 publications -- including dallies and weeklies -- while during the Taliban, there were only 7 government controlled publications. We now have 53 independent radio stations and 34 government radio stations, while during the Taliban there was no entertainment or education programme."
A new law
In order that such incidents are not repeated, Mr Fidai is pressing the Karzai government in Kabul to implement a media law with provisions guaranteeing freedom of the press.
"A media law which enforces access to information, access to a lawyer, open and transparent court -- if such a law is implemented, I guess we journalists should be okay," said Mr Fidai.
Ironically, in Soviet occupied Kabul of the late 1980s, Mr Zalmai used to be a popular TV and radio host, vociferously questioning the authorities in power. He survived Soviet tyranny, but has not been so lucky in a Western-backed, more democratic Afghanistan.