Afghan trial over religion draws protests in West

Death penalty is possible for Muslim who became a Christian

The case of an Afghan man who could face the death penalty in his country for converting to Christianity from Islam has prompted a swift international outcry. President Bush said Wednesday that he was “deeply troubled,” and leaders of three other nations with troops in Afghanistan also voiced objections.

The convert, Abdul Rahman, has been accused of apostasy and jailed, but not formally charged. In the United States this week, Christian talk shows and advocacy groups rallied their supporters, who flooded the White House and the Afghanistan Embassy with complaints.

The embassy released a statement on Wednesday saying that it was “too early” to draw conclusions, and that a judge was now “evaluating questions raised about the mental fitness of Mr. Rahman.” The embassy said the results of that evaluation “may end the proceedings.”

Rahman told a preliminary hearing in Afghanistan last week that he converted to Christianity about 15 years ago while working with a Christian aid group helping refugees. When he recently sought custody of his children from his parents, family members reported his conversion.

The prosecutor in the case called Rahman “a microbe” who “should be killed.”

Although an American invasion overthrew the Taliban government four years ago, there are still judges who hold radical interpretations of Shariah, or Islamic law.

The case presents a challenge for President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is dependent on foreign troops and foreign aid but insistent on the independence of its courts.

Bush, in a visit to Wheeling, W.Va., on Wednesday to rally support for the war in Iraq, said: “I’m troubled when I hear — deeply troubled when I hear that a person who has converted away from Islam may be held to account. That’s not the universal application of the values that I talked about.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan government group that works closely with the State Department, previously has warned that the Afghan Constitution does not adequately protect religious freedoms, said Tad Stahnke, the commission’s deputy director for policy.

Officials from Germany, Italy and Canada, which all have troops serving in Afghanistan, have voiced their concerns to Karzai’s government. The Italian foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Gianfranco Fini, said Tuesday that he had received assurance that Rahman would not be executed, but he did not elaborate.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington, called for Rahman’s release, saying that the Quran supported religious freedom and that Islam was never compulsory. CAIR said its position was endorsed by the Fiqh Council of North America, a committee of Islamic legal scholars.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
New York Times, via the San Francisco Chronicle, USA
Mar. 23, 2006
Laurie Goodstein

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday March 23, 2006.
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