Afghanistan: hundreds protest clemency for Christian

We especially love the lip service to “freedom of religion” in the Afghan constitution. Of course, WW4 REPORT warned of this contradiction all the way back to the Bonn Accords, the consolidation of the interim Afghan government, the Loya Jirga, and the consolidation of the new Afghan state. But, hey, nobody ever listens to us! By the way, this is also a taste of what we can look forward to in Iraq under the best scenario Bush can offer. Pretty sad that these are the forces the US is supporting in the name of “secularism”—while the forces they oppose (Taliban, Iraqi insurgents) are merely more militantly anti-secular (meaning, mostly, that they are less hypocritical and do not bother to pay lip service, having no incentive in the form of US aid and protection to do so). From The Guardian, March 27:

Hundreds of Afghans demonstrated today against a court’s decision to delay a controversial case against a Christian convert facing the death penalty for refusing to renounce his faith.

About 700 people, including some Muslim clerics, gathered in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and chanted “Death to Bush” as well as other anti-western slogans. Security forces surrounded the demonstrators but did not intervene.

Amid a storm of western criticism, the Afghan government has sought a way to end the prosecution of Abdul Rahman, 41, who converted to Christianity in Pakistan 16 years ago.

Yesterday a supreme court spokesman said the case was being reviewed because of “problems with the prosecutor’s evidence”.

The case will be sent back to prosecutors, while the attorney general will examine whether Mr Rahman is “mentally fit to stand trial”, he added.

Mr Rahman could be freed, possibly today, pending the review of his case, another court official told the Associated Press.

Religious leaders have called for protests across Afghanistan against the government and the west because of the decision to re-examine the case.

Mr Rahman, who asked his jailers for a Bible, insists he is of sound mind and willing to die for his faith. “I am serene and have full awareness … If I must die, I will die,” he told the Italian daily La Repubblica, which asked questions through a human rights worker.

Yesterday officials said they were moving him to Pul-i-Charki, a notorious high security facility with hundreds of Taliban convicts, after fellow prisoners at Kabul’s main jail threatened to kill him.

Mr Rahman stands accused of apostasy, or abandonment of faith – an offence punishable by hanging under Afghanistan’s Islamic law.

His prosecution exposes contradictions in the constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion yet declares all laws to be subject to Islam.

President George Bush, who visited Kabul this month, said he was “deeply troubled” by the case.

Pope Benedict XVI made an appeal for clemency, while Austria, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said it would “leave no stone unturned” to protect Mr Rahman.

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, has sought to defuse the crisis but also wants to avoid angering the hardline religious leaders who control the country’s top courts. Several clerics have threatened to kill Mr Rahman if he is released.

Mr Rahman said he had been denounced to police by his ex-wife and children, who objected to his faith.

He said he encountered Christianity as a refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan, where he worked for a foreign aid agency. “They were Catholics. We talked about religion. I read the Bible. It opened my heart and mind.”

Asked if he would leave Afghanistan if released, Mr Rahman said: “Perhaps. But if I were to flee again it would mean my country had not changed. It would mean that the Taliban had won.”

See our last post on Afghanistan.