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Afghanistan citizen could face death for becoming a Christian

KABUL, Afghanistan (BP)–Four years removed from the ouster of the Taliban, an Afghanistan citizen is being tried in court for converting from Islam to Christianity and could face the death penalty.

Abdul Rahman, 41, was arrested in February after his family turned him in, the presiding judge told the Associated Press. He reportedly has been a Christian for some 16 years.

“I am a Christian and I believe in Jesus Christ,” he told the judge, according to Voice of America news service.

Technically, Rahman is being tried for rejecting Islam, and not for embracing Christianity. According to Voice of America, Rahman would have two appeals to higher courts if found guilty. President Hamid Karzai would have to approve the execution — a move that could bring significant pressure on him from religious rights groups worldwide, the news service stated.

“He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one,” the prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, told the Associated Press. “We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty.”

Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, told AP that many Muslims believe Shariah law — on which the Afghan Constitution is based — requires that Muslims who reject Islam be put to death.

International Christian Concern, an interdenominational human rights organization based in Washington, has urged “all concerned parties to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan to express their opposition to this violation of freedom of conscience and urge the immediate acquittal of Abdul Rahman.”

The contact information is Embassy of Afghanistan, 2341 Wyoming Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008; telephone, (202) 483-6410; fax, (202) 483-6488; e-mail, [email protected].

“Afghanistan has already had enough of religious extremism under the Taliban,” ICC stated.

Afghanistan’s constitution affirms the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, ICC pointed out. Article 18 of the declaration states in part, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

ICC also cited several verses from the Koran as evidence that the Islamic holy book can allow for freedom of conscience.

The judge in the case, Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada, told AP he would issue a decision within two months.

“We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law,” he said. “It is an attack on Islam.”

Coalition forces removed the Taliban from power after Sept. 11, 2001, and Afghanistan has been hailed as a model of democracy in the Islamic world, but the trial of Rahman now has sparked questions worldwide.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins wrote March 20 in his daily e-mail, “How can we congratulate ourselves for liberating Afghanistan from the rule of jihadists only to be ruled by Islamists who kill Christians? Such a ‘trial’ is a flagrant violation of Article 18 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights — which the current Afghan government even incorporated into its constitution.”

Perkins urged President Bush to “immediately send Vice President Cheney or Secretary Rice to Kabul to read Hamid Kharzai’s government the riot act,” Perkins wrote. “Americans will not give their blood and treasure to prop up new Islamic fundamentalist regimes. Democracy is more than purple thumbs.”

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