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Afghan Officials Meet to Discuss Christian Convert's Fate

  • Benjamin Sand

Senior officials in Afghanistan met Saturday to address the growing international controversy over an Afghan Muslim who faces possible execution for converting to Christianity. Several Afghan authorities have suggested the man could be released within 48 hours - but local resistance to that idea also appears to be growing.

The emergency meeting was reportedly convened after a growing chorus of Western officials expressed their outrage over the controversial case. Some reports from the Afghan capital said President Hamid Karzai was taking part in the discussions.

Key allies, including the United States, Germany and Australia, have all condemned the trial of Abdur Rahman, who converted to Christianity 15 years ago. They have urged Mr. Karzai to spare Rahman's life.

The 41-year-old defendant faces a possible death sentence under Afghan law for abandoning Islam and converting to Christianity.

Mohammad Amin Farhang, Afghanistan's economic minister, says the Karzai administration is well aware of the international attention the case has created.

He says we know this is creating problems with the West and with the Christian community. Ideally, he says, the controversy can be resolved through mutual understanding and tolerance.

Unofficially, a senior Afghan leader said Saturday that Rahman could be freed soon, but so far there has been no public confirmation.

It also remains unclear what options President Karzai's administration actually has.

The senior judge in charge of the case insisted Friday that the trial would proceed without interruption, and underscored the independence of the court in Afghanistan's newly won democracy.

Influential Muslim clerics across Afghanistan are also backing the prosecution of Rahman. Friday, a number of religious leaders warned they would incite people to kill Rahman themselves if he did not return to Islam.

The trial will force President Karzai to choose between his country's religious conservatives, and the wishes of his Western allies, whose political and military support is crucial in the government's fight against Taleban and al-Qaida insurgents.

One possible compromise that has been raised would be to declare Rahman mentally unstable, and therefore unfit to stand trial. It is not clear at this point whether such a move would be acceptable to those Afghans who want him tried.

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