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20-year prison sentence for modifying the Koran; INTERNATIONAL.

An appeals court in Afghanistan upheld 20-year prison sentences for two men who published a translationof the Koran that drove religious leaders to call for their execution.

The panel ruled the men were guilty of modifying the Koran - a crime punishable by death. However, the three-judge panel reiterated a lower court ruling giving the men 20 years each.

The controversial text is a translation of Islam's holy book into an Afghan language without the original Arabic verses alongside.

Muslims regard the Arabic Koran as words directly by God. A translation is not considered a Koran, and it is believed a mistranslation could warp God's word.

A host of Muslim clerics condemned the translation - published in 2007 and handed out free - as blasphemous and accused its publishers of setting themselves up as false prophets.

Critics said the trial illustrates the undue influence of hard-line clerics in Afghanistan's fledgling legal system.

The prosecutor asked for the death penalty for the twomen - Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, former spokesman for the attorney general, and Mushtaq Ahmad, a Muslim clericwho signed a letter endorsing the translation.

Chief judge Abdul Salam Qazizada invoked Islamic Shariah lawwhen reading out the sentence, saying deathwould not have been an extreme punishment.

Mr Zalmai's lawyer, Abdul Qawi Afzeli, said both men plan to appeal again, pushing the case to the Supreme Court.

The appeals court reduced the sentence of the owner of the print shop that published the book to 15 months, which he has already served, from five years.

Three othermencharged with trying to help Mr Zalmai flee the country were sentenced to just over seven months, also time already served.

He who commits such an act is an infidel and should be killed CHIEF JUDGEABDUL SALAM QAZIZADA
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 17, 2009
Words:288
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