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Afghan faces death penalty for Christian faith
Times Online
Tim Albone of The Times in Kabul
March 20, 2006

An Afghan who has renounced his Islamic faith for Christianity faces the death penalty under Afghan law in a throwback to the brutal Taleban regime.

Abdul Rahman, 41, is being prosecuted for an "attack on Islam", for which the punishment under Afghanistan's draft constitution, is death by hanging.

The charge comes as Britain prepares to send 3,300 nominally Christian paratroopers to stabilise the troubled south of the country.

Mr Rahman converted to Christianity over 14 years ago, but his situation was bought to the attention of the authorities after he tried to gain custody of his daughters who had been living with their grandparents. His parents then denounced him as a convert and on arrest he was found to be carrying a Bible.

"The Attorney General is emphasising he should be hung. It is a crime to convert to Christianity from Islam. He is teasing and insulating his family by converting," Judge Alhaj Ansarullah Mawlawy Zada, who will be trying his case, told The Times.

"He was a Muslim for 25 years more than he has been a Christian. We will request him to become a Muslim again. In your country two women can marry I think that is very strange. In this country we have the perfect constitution, it is Islamic law and it is illegal to be a Christian and it should be punished," said the judge.

If Judge Zada, who is head of the Primary Court, passes the death penalty under Afghan law, Mr Rahman still has two avenues of appeal, the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court. The death penalty then has to be ratified by President Hamid Karzai.

The first sitting of Mr Rahman's case was recently held and Judge Zada said a verdict will be reached within two months. The case is being viewed as a test of religious freedom in post-Taleban Afghanistan.

"It's a case of religious freedom. It's a real challenge for the the judiciary system here and highlights the problems between Sharia (Islamic) and statutory law," said a western human rights expert in Kabul.

"The constitution says Islam is the the religion of Afghanistan, yet it also mentions the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 18 specifically forbids this kind of recourse. It really highlights the problem the judiciary system faces."

The prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, has said he would drop charges if Mr Rahman converted back to Islam but that he had so far refused to do so.

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

Repeated request for an interview with Mr Rahman were rejected by prison officials who said the Justice Ministry had threatened to sack them if an interview was granted.

One of his cell mates Sayad Miakhel, 30, told The Times: "He is standing by his words he will not become a Muslim again, he has been a Christian for over 14 years. It is what he believes in."

Original Text