03/20/2006, 00.00
AFGHANISTAN
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Christian convert risks death penalty

Abdul Rahman left Islam 16 years ago; he refused to recant in his trial.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – "Christian convert may be condemned to death": this is today's front-page headline blazed across several newspapers in Afghanistan. AsiaNews sources in Kabul have confirmed that the news has been reported "in red letters" and "this is not hopeful".

Abdul Rahman, 41 years, is separated from his wife; he was arrested last month after his family – fighting with him over the custody of his children – denounced him for being a convert. The man, who was found carrying a Bible, was accused of having rejected Islam.

Throughout his trial in Kabul, Rahman confessed to having converted 16 years ago after getting to know a health worker belonging to a Christian group, who assisted Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, said he had offered to drop the charges if Rahman would convert back to Islam, but he had refused to do so. Wasi described the Christian's behaviour as an attack on Islam and called for the death penalty.

Experts on Afghanistan told AsiaNews that the case "is none other than the application of Shar'ia, Islamic law, on which the very Constitution of the country is based." They said cases of converts to Christianity were frequent among Afghan refugees in Iran or Pakistan, but often these were "only for convenience": many converted "in the hope of getting a visa for the United States or Canada, where they later re-embrace Islam."

Catholics from the international community in the capital said: "The possible death penalty is worrying not only because it is a violation of one of the most fundamental human rights, that of freedom of worship, but also because it would be an abrupt step backwards, almost a halt, in the path of dialogue with Islam." The sources added: "We hope the West will not look on silently in the face of such blatant desecration of man's fundamental freedoms."

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