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Afghan Christian arrives in Italy, expected to take asylum

ROME (BP)–The Afghan man who was facing death for converting from Islam to Christianity is in Italy, where he is expected to take asylum.

Abdul Rahman, 41, arrived in Italy March 29 after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s cabinet voted to welcome Rahman into the country.

“[W]e are very glad to be able to welcome someone who has been so courageous,” CNN.com reported Berlusconi as saying through a spokesman.

In a case that has drawn worldwide attention, Rahman was arrested in Afghanistan and faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity. But he was released from prison March 27 after the prosecutor sent a letter to the judge saying Rahman was “mentally unfit to stand trial,” the Associated Press reported Afghan Deputy Attorney General Mohammed Eshak Alok as saying. Christians around the world have expressed thanks for Rahman’s release but concern for the grounds on which it was granted.

The case has highlighted vast differences between western democratic countries and Islamic nations. While worldwide leaders, including President Bush, called for Rahman’s release, many Afghan clerics called for his death. The Afghan Constitution is based on Sharia law, and many Muslims there believe such law requires death for Muslims who reject Islam.

Rahman arrived in Italy the same day that Afghanistan’s parliament voted to keep him in the country, CNN.com reported. Some clerics had called for fellow Muslims to kill Rahman if he were released.

The United States and its coalition partners freed Afghanistan from Taliban rule following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and Afghanistan has been held up as a model of democracy in the Islamic world.

Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, said that even though Rahman is safe, other Christians in Afghanistan are in danger. He cited a Compass Direct story that said two other Afghan Christians had been arrested.

“[T]he resolution of Rahman’s case does not resolve the threat to other Christian converts in Afghanistan,” Perkins wrote in his daily Washington Watch e-mail. “… Americans have a special reason to decry such outrages in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our soldiers have fought and died to bring freedom to these peoples. While we celebrate Abdul’s release there remains much work for this Administration to do. Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq must mean religious freedom, too. Otherwise, our efforts there will ultimately be futile.”

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