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1/25/2018 7:38:29 AM
Posted: 3/22/2006 12:08:44 PM EST

Wednesday, Mar. 22, 2006
Being Christian in Afghanistan
A man is charged with converting to the wrong religion, but the U.S. can do little about it

When a Christian believer in a nation wholly dependent on U.S. support faces trial and possibly execution simply for embracing the same faith as the President of the United States, you'd think that country would be read the riot act. Instead, Washington's response to the trial in Afghanistan of Abdul Rahman has been rather muted. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns has emphasized the U.S. commitment to freedom of worship, and urged the Afghan authorities to follow what he said was their own constitution's commitment to the same principle. But, he added, the U.S. was not going to pressure the Afghan authorities on the matter. "This is a case that is not under the competence of the United States," he said. "It is under the competence of the Afghan authorities. We hope that the Afghan constitution is going to be upheld, and in our view, if it is upheld, he will be found to be innocent."

Perhaps, but there's hardly any certainty over that outcome — even in the new Afghanistan liberated from the rule of the Taliban, personal status issues are governed by Islamic Sharia law rather than a civil code. And its not clear how a conflict between Sharia and the Afghan constitution's embrace of U.N. Human Rights conventions that guarantee freedom of worship would be resolved. The country's chief justice, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, has no secular legal education, and had previously been the head of a Council of Islamic Scholars. He is also a close associate of Abdul-Rabb al-Rassul Sayyaf, by a mujahedeen warlord-turned-legislator who once had close ties with Osama bin Laden.

Rahman, 41, who converted to Christianity 16 years ago, has been charged in a case arising out of a custody dispute. He may avoid conviction, however, not because of constitutional provisions for freedom of religion, but because both the judge and prosecutors have questioned his sanity and his fitness to stand trial. "We think he could be mad," prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari told the AP. "He does not talk like a normal person." Rahman earlier told the court, "They want to sentence me to death and I accept it, but I am not a deserter and not an infidel. I am a Christian, which means I believe in the trinity."

The subdued response of the Bush administration, and the neutral stance taken by President Hamid Karzai, who has stressed that the matter must be left to the courts, underscores the political sensitivity of the case. Even after the Taliban's ouster, much of Afghanistan's political life is dominated by conservative Islamists. And successive Afghan governments have come out strongly against proselytizing by Christian missionary groups — they're willing to accept aid, but are hostile to any attempt to secure converts. That may fly in the face of the principle of religious freedom, just as the furor over the Danish cartoons challenged the principle of freedom of speech — but there's little doubt that any appearance of Western powers seeking to defend the right of Christians to proselytize in Muslim lands would touch off a similar response in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, frontline allies in the war on terror. The Abdul Rahman case highlights the limits on the freedom the U.S. has brought to Afghanistan, and will raise the ire of the Evangelical Christian political base of the GOP. But Washington will also be aware that the current political order may be as good as it gets right now, in terms of an Afghan government allied with the West. And if the priority is saving Mr. Rahman's life and preserving his freedom, turning the case into a "clash of civilizations" battle of wills may not be the most effective strategy.

Link Posted: 3/22/2006 3:16:43 PM EST
"We think he could be mad," prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari told the AP. "He does not talk like a normal person."

Rahman earlier told the court, "They want to sentence me to death and I accept it, but I am not a deserter and not an infidel. I am a Christian, which means I believe in the trinity."

I know what you mean Sarinwal.

Link Posted: 3/23/2006 7:00:17 PM EST


Pressure on Afghanistan over jailed Christian
By Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul
March 24, 2006

UNDER mounting international pressure over the case of a man facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity, Afghanistan said its judiciary alone would decide the case.

The US President, George Bush, said he was deeply troubled by the case of Abdul Rahman, who an Afghan judge said this week was being held in jail but not formally charged for converting from Islam to Christianity and could face the death penalty if he refused to become a Muslim again.

"We have got influence in Afghanistan and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values," Mr Bush said.

Death is one of the punishments stipulated by Islamic law, or sharia, for apostasy. The Afghan legal system is based on a mix of civil and sharia.

Mahaiuddin Baluch, a religious affairs adviser to President Hamid Karzai said: "We in Afghanistan have the prosecutor who observes the law and the court that executes it. Whatever the court orders will be executed as the court is independent."

The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, said Mr Karzai assured him in a telephone call "that respect for human and religious rights will be fully upheld in this case".

Three other NATO allies with troops in Afghanistan urged respect for religious freedom. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, added her voice to those of leaders expressing concern.

In response, the Economy Minister, Mohammad Amin Farhang, criticised the "heated and emotional reactions of German politicians" and said proposals to withdraw German troops amounted to blackmail.

"We don't interfere in Germany's internal affairs or in running court cases," he told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.

The case is a sensitive one for Mr Karzai, who depends on foreign troops in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and foreign aid to support the economy. He also has to consider the views of conservative proponents of Islamic law - 99 per cent of Afghanistan's population of 25 million is Muslim.

Mr Rahman, 40, told a judge at a preliminary hearing last week he became a Christian while working for an aid group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan 15 years ago. "I'm not an apostate. I'm obedient to God but I'm a Christian, that's my choice," he told the hearing.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, an Islamic advocacy group, said Mr Rahman's conversion was a personal matter and urged the Afghan Government to release him.

The Italian Foreign Minister, Gianfranco Fini, has said Mr Rahman would probably not be executed. "From what I've been told, and I have no reason to doubt it, the death sentence will not be carried out," he said on Italian television.

Some officials have raised questions about Mr Rahman's mental state, and Mr Farhang said Mr Rahman would not be executed if he were found to be unstable.

A political analyst in Kabul said the case might hinge on differing interpretations of the constitution.

Craig Skehan reports from Canberra that Afghanistan's embassy in Australia said yesterday that "justice will prevail" in the case of Mr Rahman and it would be premature to draw any conclusion about his punishment.

An embassy spokesman said time should be allowed for the Afghan judicial system to complete a "review" of the case and that the "country's constitution provides for freedom of religion practices".

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