By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BosNewsLife) — Amid mounting international pressure, a court in Afghanistan on Sunday, March 26, dropped its case against a jailed Afghan man, Abdul Rahman, who has been threatened with execution because he converted from Islam to Christianity, and his release was expected shortly.
"He is going to be released on legal grounds [such as] poor evidence [and] holes in the case," said Jeff King, president of US-based human rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) with website www.persecution.org in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife. But King cautioned that Rahman was "technically still in danger as the case is being turned back to the prosecutor for review, but we understand that this is a technicality."
Government officials close to Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed the release, but also warned that Rahman, 41, will be sent to a psychological hospital. "He will probably be sent to the hospital tomorrow," Afghanistan's deputy attorney general, Mohammed Eshak Alokos, told reporters Sunday evening, March 26. "He is not considered a prisoner anymore. He is a sick person," he added.
Human rights observers said that by declaring him "mentally ill," Afghan authorities hope to overcome tensions with Muslim clerics who demand his execution, while avoiding Western condemnation of Afghanistan where an international coalition helps to rebuild the devastated country, since the Taliban was ousted in late 2001.
The decision to release Rahman from prison came shortly after Pope Benedict XVI wrote to Afghan President Hamid Karzai asking that charges be dropped against the Christian convert. In addition an Afghan newspaper "Outlook Afghanistan" on Sunday, March 26, became the first to publicly call in Afghanistan for the release of Abdul Rahman.
"Afghanistan cannot live in isolation anymore," it stressed in an editorial, which carried a headline calling for Rahman's freedom. The newspaper is reportedly funded by a member of parliament who used to lead a faction during the civil war in the 1990s.
His release would end an ordeal that began last month when Rahman's family went to the police and accused him of becoming a Christian. Such a conversion violates the country's strict Islamic laws. From the start of his trial, March 16, Rahman was accused by prosecutors of rejecting Islam, a charge that carries the death penalty in Afghanistan. Rahman confessed that he converted from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago at age 25 while working as a medical aid worker for Afghan refugees in neighboring Pakistan.
After being an aid worker for four years there, he moved to Germany for nine years, his father, Abdul Manan, told reporters. Rahman returned to Afghanistan in 2002 and tried to gain custody of his two teenage daughters who had been living with their grandparents their whole lives, the father said.
A custody battle ensued and the matter was taken to the police. During questioning, it emerged that Rahman was a Christian and carrying a Bible, and he was immediately arrested, explained Manan. In an interview published Sunday, March 26, in an Italian newspaper, Rahman defended his choice and stressed he is ready to die for it.
"I am serene. I have full awareness of what I have chosen. If I must die, I will die," Rahman told the Rome daily La Repubblica, apparently denying that he was mentally ill. "Somebody, a long time ago, did it for all of us," he added. It was a reference to Jesus, also called "God's only begotten Son," who the Bible says died at a cross for all sins of mankind before resurrecting on the third day, so that every person believing in Him "has everlasting life."
The newspaper reportedly did not interview Rahman directly, sending instead questions through a human rights worker, who visited him at a Kabul detention facility. Authorities have barred journalists from seeing Rahman, despite concerns over his situation.
Officials have told reporters that Rahman was moved to a notorious maximum-security prison outside Kabul that is also home to hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda militants. Rahman was apparently moved to Policharki Prison last week because detainees threatened his life at an overcrowded police holding facility in central Kabul, a court official told The Associated Press news agency apparently on condition of anonymity.
General Shahmir Amirpur, who is in charge of Policharki, reportedly confirmed the move and was quoted as saying that Rahman "had been begging his guards to give him a Bible." The ICC human rights group said while it was pleased he will be outside prison soon, Rahman remains "in grave danger as fundamentalists will seek to kill him regardless of what the courts say. He is an apostate and must be killed according to Islamic law."
At the same time it stressed that Rahman had become "a voice for the voiceless" as there are "millions of others that suffer due to their religious convictions in China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, and many other countries."
It urged supporters to "thank the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington DC for upholding the principle of religious freedom." Afghan officials said earlier that the embassy was bombarded with e-mails and letters from people demanding Rahman's release.
Afghanistan is a deeply conservative society and 99 percent of its 28 million people are Muslim. The rest are mainly Hindus, and there are very few evangelical Christians.
Christian aid workers in the region say Rahman's trial has underscored the difficulties Christians face in the country, with unconfirmed reports that some have been detained on similar conversion charges. Few reportedly admit their faith because of fear of retribution and there are no known Afghan churches. An old house in a war-wrecked suburb of Kabul serves as perhaps the only Christian place of worship for expatriates. (With BosNewsLife News Center, BosNewsLife Research and reports from Afghanistan and Vatican City).
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