Clerics Renew Call for Christian Convert’s Death

March 23, 2006

From FoxNews:

Clerics Call for Christian Convert's Death Despite Western Outrage

Senior Muslim clerics said Thursday that an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity must be executed and if the government caves into Western pressure and frees him they will incite people to "pull him into pieces."

The trial of Abdul Rahman has fired passions in this conservative Muslim nation and highlighted a conflict of values between Afghanistan and its Western backers.

"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hardline regime was ousted in 2001.

Rahman, a 41-year old former medical aid worker, faces the death penalty under Afghanistan's Islamic laws for becoming a Christian. His trial, which began last week, has caused an international outcry. U.S. President George W. Bush has said he is "deeply troubled" by the case and expects the country to "honor the universal principle of freedom."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that she received assurances from Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a telephone call that Rahman would not be sentenced to death.

"I have the impression that he (Karzai) has a firm willingness" to abide by the human rights requirements and "I hope we will be able to resolve this," Merkel said going into pre-EU summit talks.

Diplomats have said the Afghan government was searching for a way to drop the case, and on Wednesday authorities said Rahman is suspected of being mentally ill and would undergo psychological examinations to see whether he is fit to stand trial.

But three Sunni preachers and a Shiite one interviewed by The Associated Press in four of Kabul's most popular mosques said they don't believe Rahman is insane.

"He is not crazy. He went in front of the media and confessed to being a Christian," said Hamidullah, chief cleric at Haji Yacob Mosque.

"The government is scared of the international community. But the people will kill him if he is freed."

Raoulf, who is a member of the country's main Islamic organization, the Afghan Ulama Council, agreed, saying, "The government are playing games. The people will not be fooled."

"Cut off his head!" he exclaimed, sitting in a courtyard outside Herati Mosque. "We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there's nothing left."

He said the only way for Rahman to survive would be for him to go into exile outside Afghanistan.

But Said Mirhossain Nasri, the top cleric at Hossainia Mosque, one of the largest Shiite places of worship in Kabul, said Rahman must not be allowed to leave the country.

"If he is allowed to live in the West then others will claim to be Christian so they can too," he said. "We must set an example. … He must be hanged."

The clerics said they were angry with the United States and other countries for pushing for Rahman's freedom.

"We are a small country and we welcome the help the outside world is giving us, but please don't interfere in this issue," Nasri said. "We are Muslims and these are our beliefs. This is much more important to us than all the aid the world has given us."

Afghanistan's constitution is based on Shariah law, which is interpreted by many Muslims to require that any Muslim who rejects Islam be sentenced to death.

Hamidullah warned that if the government frees Rahman, "There will be an uprising" like one against Soviet occupying forces in the 1980s.

"The government will lose the support of the people," he said. "What sort of democracy would it be if the government ignored the will of all the people."

Meanwhile, human rights group Amnesty International issued a statement, saying that if Rahman has been detained solely for his religious beliefs, he would be a "prisoner of conscience."

"The charges against him should be dropped and if necessary he should be protected against any abuses within the community," the London-based group said.

Rahman is believed to have lived in Germany for nine years after converting to Christianity while working as a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan. He returned to Kabul in 2002.

It was not immediately clear when Rahman's trial will resume. Authorities have barred attempts by the AP to see him and he is not believed to have a lawyer.


Democracy Afghan Style

March 21, 2006

From ABC News:

Afghan Man Prosecuted for Converting From Islam to Christianity, Could Get Death Sentence

KABUL, Afghanistan – An Afghan man is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death on a charge of converting from Islam to Christianity, a crime under this country's Islamic laws, a judge said Sunday.

The trial is believed to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan and highlights a struggle between religious conservatives and reformists over what shape Islam should take here four years after the ouster of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime.

The defendant, 41-yer-old Abdul Rahman, was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian, Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada told The Associated Press in an interview. Rahman was charged with rejecting Islam and his trial started Thursday.

During the one-day hearing, the defendant confessed that he converted from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago while working as a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, Mawlavezada said.

"We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law," the judge said. "It is an attack on Islam."

Mawlavezada said he would rule on the case within two months.

Afghanistan's constitution is based on Shariah law, which is interpreted by many Muslims to require that any Muslim who rejects Islam be sentenced to death, said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the state-sponsored Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

Repeated attempts to interview Rahman in detention were barred.

The prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, said he had offered to drop the charges if Rahman converted back to Islam, but he refused.

"He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one," Wasi told AP. "We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty."

After being an aid worker for four years in Pakistan, Rahman moved to Germany for nine years, his father, Abdul Manan, said outside his Kabul home.

Rahman returned to Afghanistan in 2002 and tried to gain custody of his two daughters, now aged 13 and 14, who had been living with their grandparents their whole lives, the father said. A custody battle ensued and the matter was taken to the police.

During questioning, it emerged that Rahman was a Christian and was carrying a Bible. He was immediately arrested and charged, the father said.

Afghanistan is a conservative Islamic country. Some 99 percent of its 28 million people are Muslim, and the remainder are mainly Hindu.

A Christian aid worker in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there was no reliable figure for the number of Christians, though it was believed to be only in the dozens or low hundreds. He said few admit their faith because of fear of retribution and there are no known Afghan churches.

An old house in a war-wrecked suburb of Kabul serves as a Christian place of worship for expatriates. From the muddy street, the building looks like any other. Its guard, Abdul Wahid, said no Afghans go there.

The only other churches are believed to be inside foreign embassies or on bases belonging to the U.S.-led coalition or a NATO peacekeeping force.

Hakim, the human rights advocate, said the case would attract widespread attention in Afghanistan and could be exploited by Muslim conservatives to rally opposition to reformists who are trying to moderate how the religion is practiced here.

"The reformists are trying to bring about positive changes," he said. "This case could be fertile ground for extremists to manipulate things."

Muslim clerics still hold considerable power in Afghanistan, especially in rural areas where most women wear all-encompassing burqas and are dominated by men.

Hakim said that if Rahman was acquitted, it would be a propaganda win for the Taliban rebels, who have stepped up their insurgency in the past year.

In the months before U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban in 2001, it claimed Western aid groups were trying to convert Afghan Muslims. They arrested eight foreign aid workers for allegedly preaching Christianity, but later released them unharmed.