By: Stefan J. Bos
Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
KABUL/BUDAPEST (ANS)– There were new fears Thursday that 16 Afghan and eight foreign workers of the German based Christian relief agency Shelter Now International (SNI) may be executed, as the country's Islamic rulers prepared to arrest more Christians, including children.
The regime, known as the Taleban, said Western diplomats would not be allowed to see any of the jailed SNI-workers, detained nearly two weeks ago on charges of preaching the Gospel to Muslims.
"We have been asked to be patient and to wait until the investigations are finished," Australian consul Alistair Adams told reporters in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Adams, and colleagues from the German and United States missions in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, have been waiting in Kabul since Tuesday to try to secure access to the foreign detainees, four Germans, two Australians, two Americans.
He said that during talks with Taleban foreign ministry officials in Kabul Thursday the diplomats were "advised" to wait in Islamabad, Pakistan till the legal procedures are over. "We currently have visas which expire on August 21 and we have them currently before the Taleban authorities for an extension. Upon persistent questioning it would appear at this stage that they won't be extended," Adams added. German diplomat Helmut Landes called the Taleban "stubborn."
The diplomatic setback came after the Taleban made it clear that other international organizations may also become the target of an ongoing investigation into the spread of Christianity in war-ravaged Afghanistan. "The investigation takes a long time because we are trying to find out more evidence on links…" the Taleban protocol chief Abdul Ghafour Afghani told reporters.
Under the regime's strict interpretation of Islamic an Islamic Sharia court, can hand out the death penalty to anyone convicted of either converting Afghan Muslims, or having converted from Islam. Reports from Kabul suggested that even Afghan children have been questioned by the feared religious police for their possible acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord.
On Saturday the Taleban released 64 boys who had been detained because they allegedly received "Christian teaching from the aid workers," but then took the children's adult male relatives into custody, the state-owned Bakhtar News Agency reported. The Taleban radio said parents will be punished for allowing their kids to be exposed to Christianity.
SNI has denied preaching Christianity and says it merely worked on the Biblical principle of helping people in need in impoverished Afghanistan. The agancy distributed food and ran housing projects, when the Taleban closed its offices and detained the workers. During last week's raid, the Taleban's religious police confiscated several Bibles and computer discs containing the story of the Life of Christ in the Dari language as well as translated Christian films about the coming of Jesus Christ.
Altough SNI maintains the Christian material was for "personal use" the authorities have described these discoveries as "evidence collected from the agency workers." Salim Haqqani, Deputy Minister of the Taliban's Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, told reporters that because the material was translated into local languages, it could be used to convert Afghan Muslims to Christianity.
The latest developments come at a time when the hardline movement is internationally condemned for its human rights record, especially with regard to women and religious minorities. Teleban fighters recently destroyed pre-Islamic heritage, including giant ancient Buddha statues, and have reportedly mistreated non Muslims.
Afghanistan has also been hit by United Nations sanctions for refusing to expel Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden for trial in the United States on terrorism charges.
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