Dogma Alert

Monday, March 20, 2006

Christian convert could be executed

Mar. 20, 2006. 01:00 AM

KABUL—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 yesterday.

The trial, believed to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan, 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-year-old Abdul Rahman, was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian, Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada said 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."
He said he would rule on the case within two months.

Afghanistan's constitution is based on sharia 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.

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

Afghanistan is a conservative Islamic country. Some 99 per cent 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, said there was no reliable figure for the number of Christians, though it was believed to be only in the dozens or low hundreds.

Hakim said that if Rahman was acquitted, it would be a propaganda win for the Taliban rebels. In the months before U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban in 2001, the regime claimed Western aid groups were trying to convert Afghan Muslims. Eight foreign aid workers were arrested for allegedly preaching Christianity but later released.


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