Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Afghanistan: Freed Christian seeking asylum

Abdul Rahman, who faced a possible death sentence for converting to Christianity, may be granted asylum in another country following his release in Kabul. Italy is reportedly considering offering him asylum.

Rahman faced a possible charge of apostasy after he was arrested for converting about 16 years ago. Apostasy carries a death sentence under Sharia law.

He is in hiding in Kabul, after preachers at prayer services reportedly called for his execution. Other media reports have quoted Afghanis saying Rahman would be killed if he was released without charge. While he was in custody, a prison official told the Associated Press he was moved to a different prison after threats from other inmates.

The United Nations (UN) mission in Afghanistan said on Monday night that talks were underway to find a country that would grant Rahman asylum.

The UN issued a statement on 27 March confirming it was "working to find a solution in cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan".

"Mr. Abdul Rahman has asked for asylum outside Afghanistan. We expect that this will be provided by one of the countries interested in a peaceful solution to this case," it said.

Case dropped
Justice Minister Sarwar Danish told AFP that authorities had to order his release because of problems in the case and doubts over his mental state.

Under Afghan law there is also a limit of one month that a person can be held without charge while prosecutors assemble a case.

The New York Times reported that Abdul Wasei, the prosecutor in the case, said on Monday the time limit was "the main reason that the attorney general decided to release him".

Wasei told the paper the prosecution had completed its initial investigation on time. But the court sent the case back so prosecutors could address questions about Abdul Rahman's mental state and nationality, a delay which took them past the one month time limit.

Backlash expected
The Associated Press quoted Hamiddullah, a senior cleric in Kabul, as saying: "This is a betrayal of Islam and the entire Afghan nation by our government. This will have very dangerous consequences for the government. Muslim leaders will react very strongly."

On Monday, hundreds of Afghans demonstrated against delays in the case. According to an Associated Press report, about 700 people including Muslim clerics gathered in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Monday morning, demanding that Rahman be tried and executed.

The BBC reported “more than a thousand protesters took to the streets” in the protest.

Tensions, contradictions
The case has exposed tensions in Afghan politics as well as within the country’s 2004 Constitution.

President Hamid Karzai has been treading a fine line between his Western allies, who overthrew the previous Taliban government, and religious conservatives who still wield considerable influence in the country.

The case has also illustrated apparent contradictions in the Afghan constitution, which states that Afghanistan is an Islamic country and all laws must be consistent with Islam. Yet Article 7 of the Constitution also says that the country will abide by “international conventions that Afghanistan has signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights".

Afghanistan has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom of religion, including a person’s freedom to adopt a religion of their choice.

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