Afghan Faces Death Penalty
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KABUL, Afghanistan, March 20, 2006 — Despite the overthrow of the fundamentalist Taliban government and the presence of 22,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a man who converted to Christianity is being prosecuted in Kabul, and a judge said Sunday that if convicted, he faces the death penalty.
Abdul Rahman, who is in his 40s, says he converted to Christianity 16 years ago while working as an aid worker helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Relatives denounced him as a convert during a custody battle over his children, and he was arrested last month. The prosecutor says Rahman was found with a Bible.
Human rights workers have described the case as an unsettling reminder that the country's post-Taliban judiciary remains deeply conservative, and they have called on President Hamid Karzai to intervene. During Taliban times, men were forced to kneel in prayer five times a day, and couples faced the death penalty for sex outside marriage, for example. Reform efforts have been slow, say experts, since there are so few judges and lawyers with experience.
The U.S. State Department is watching the case closely and considers it a barometer of how well democracy is developing in Afghanistan.
"Our view … is that tolerance, freedom of worship is an important element of any democracy," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "And these are issues as Afghan democracy matures that they are going to have to deal with increasingly."
A number of Christian nonprofit groups do humanitarian work in Afghanistan. Dominic Nutt of Christian Aid calls the Rahman case a step backward for the country, especially if Rahman is executed.
Nutt, who has spent time in Afghanistan, tells ABC News "few practitioners are used to the concept of democracy and toleration … [many] are educated only in Islamic law."
Presiding judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah tells ABC News a medical team was checking the defendant, since the team suspects insanity caused Rahman to reject Islam.
"We want to know that the doctors have given him a green light on his mental state, because he is not normal when he talks," says the judge.
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Islam Death For Apostasy Quran Hadith