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Afghan Christian convert released;
asylum reportedly requested amid tumult

WASHINGTON (BP)–Christian convert Abdul Rahman was released from an Afghanistan prison late March 27 and quickly disappeared following calls for his death from Islamic leaders.

Rahman, 41, was freed from the high-security Policharki prison on the edge of Kabul, but his whereabouts were unknown March 28, the Associated Press reported.

“We released him last night because the prosecutors told us to,” Afghan Justice Minister Mohammed Sarwar Danish told AP. “His family was there when he was freed, but I don’t know where he was taken.”

Prosecutors sent a letter urging Rahman’s release because “he was mentally unfit to stand trial,” Afghan Deputy Attorney General Mohammed Eshak Alok said, according to AP.

A United Nations spokesman had said March 27 Rahman had requested asylum outside Afghanistan. “We expect that this will be provided by one of the countries interested in a peaceful solution to this case,” the UN official said.

Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said he would ask his government to grant Rahman’s request for asylum, AP reported.

Hundreds of Muslim clerics and students chanted “Death to Christians” as they protested the dismissal of Rahman’s case in a march through the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif March 27, according to AP. Some Islamic leaders had signaled they would call for Rahman’s killing if he were released.

A charge of rejecting Islam and the calls inside and outside the courtroom for Rahman’s execution brought an international outcry in the case. The United States and other Western countries expressed concerns about the charges and potential punishment. The elevation of Islamic law over freedoms acknowledged in Afghanistan’s new constitution also produced criticism.

“I am both delighted and relieved that Mr. Rahman has been released from custody,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press. “I hope and pray that his safety is being secured so that he is not the victim of vigilantes.”

There is more to be done, however, regarding religious freedom in Afghanistan, Land said.

“While I am relieved that Mr. Rahman has been released from custody,” he said, “the fundamental issue still needs to be addressed for the guarantee of the basic human rights of freedom of conscience and freedom of belief for all Afghans.”

Religious liberty advocates have warned Afghanistan’s intolerance for conversions to Christianity will continue to be a problem as long as Islamic laws against apostasy are enforced by the judiciary.

A majority of Afghans responding in blitz polls supported Rahman’s execution, Arabic television network Aljazeera reported, according to the Russian News and Information Agency. While the West has been in an uproar over the case, the Islamic world has been indifferent, the news agency reported. It said Aljazeera was the only Islamic news organization to report on Rahman’s trial and threats of his execution.

Rahman converted to Christ 16 years ago when he was serving alongside Christian aid workers in Pakistan. Rahman’s wife divorced him after he became a Christian and his parents gained custody of his two young daughters. When he returned in recent months to seek custody of his now-teenage daughters, his family reported him to the government as a Christian convert.

Criticism of the case came especially from countries that helped overthrow the radical Taliban regime in late 2001 and have provided military support for the new government.

Compass Direct News, which monitors the persecution of Christians worldwide, reported Muslim militants have murdered at least five Afghan Christians in the past two years for abandoning Islam, but Rahman’s case is the first such known prosecution in Afghanistan in recent decades.

Two additional Afghan Christians have been arrested and others harassed since the international controversy surrounding Rahman’s detainment broke, according to Compass Direct.
— With reporting by Tom Strode and Erin Roach.

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