Steinmeier 'concerned' about Afghan Christian

22nd March 2006, Comments 0 comments

22 March 2006, KABUL - Afghan Economics Minister Amin Farhang on Wednesday accused the West of overreacting to the trial of an Afghan man facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity.

22 March 2006

KABUL - Afghan Economics Minister Amin Farhang on Wednesday accused the West of overreacting to the trial of an Afghan man facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity.

Under Afghanistan's strict Islamic code, Abdul Rahman, 40, could be sentenced to death after admitting that he changed his religion to Christianity.

"He'll get a fair trial," the minister told Deutsche Presse- Agentur. "He appears to be in a confused state," Farhang said, adding that he might be declared insane.

Farhang said threats made by politicians in the West to curb aid or withdraw troops from the international security force in Afghanistan "were nothing short of blackmail."

Such action would only serve to help the terrorists who wanted to isolate Afghanistan within the international community - a move which "could be dangerous for Europe and the rest of the world."

Rahman was arrested in early February in the Afghan capital Kabul after family members filed a complaint with the government, accusing him of rejecting Islam.

Rahman, who lived in Germany for many years, became a Christian 16 years ago while working for an aid organization in Pakistan. He returned to Pakistan from Germany in order to obtain custody of his two daughters, who were being looked after by their grandmother.

Fahrang said the accused had tried to make his children and other family members convert to Christianity.

According to Afghanistan's constitution, minority religious rights are protected, but Muslims have to follow the strict tenets of Islam, the state religion.

The Sharia, the Islamic system of jurisprudence, says a person who turns his back on Islam is an apostate and must be punished by death

Article 3 of the constitution says "no law can contradict the beliefs and teachings of the holy religion of Islam", while Article 119 says judges have to dispense justice according to the rules of Islam.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed his "deep concern" on Wednesday and said he would intervene personally if necessary. Afghanistan, he said, was a signatory to the U.N. Human Rights convention, which guarantees freedom of religion.

Economic Assistance Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul said the Berlin government would make representations to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who would have to sign any death sentence.

In Rome, the Italian foreign ministry said it had summoned the Afghanistan ambassador late Tuesday to express Italy's "deep concern" over the affair. Italy's ambassador to Kabul, Ettore Sequi, was also asked to hold talks with the Afghan authorities.

According to a report published on Wednesday by daily La Repubblica, Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said Italy and Germany had agreed to bring the case to the attention of the European Union.

Speaking on Italian television late Tuesday, Fini said he believed the death sentence would not be carried out.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the issue during a meeting Monday with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

During a press conference Tuesday with Abdullah, US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said that handing down "severe penalties" for religious differences is not acceptable.

DPA

Subject: German news

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