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Afghan Christian Convert Arrives in Italy


An Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity has arrived in Italy where he has been offered asylum. The man who was released earlier this week from an Afghan prison where he faced the death penalty under Afghanistan's Islamic Sharia law.

Abdul Rahman, 41, arrived in Rome just days after he was freed from a high-security prison on the outskirts of Kabul. He had been jailed after his own family accused him of converting from Islam to Christianity.

But his case caused outrage among the international community with calls to Afghan president Hamid Karzai to ensure Rahman's safety. Afghan lawmakers condemned the convert's release and said he should not be allowed to leave the country.

The man is expected to receive refugee status in Italy. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday that he had arrived in the country but did not reveal his whereabouts.

Berlusconi said Rahman is already in Italy. I think he arrived last night, he told reporters, adding that the Afghan has requested political asylum and Italy had granted it. Berlusconi said Rahman is now in the care of the interior ministry.

Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini also expressed satisfaction at the positive outcome of the case, which he said had alarmed the entire world. He said the Afghan authorities had organized the man's departure from his country adding that he is now a guest of Italy.

Italy was among the first countries to complain about the arrest of Rahman. Others like Germany, the United States and Canada, which like Italy, have troops in the country, also protested and called for religious freedom to be respected.

Germany, where Rahman once lived, praised the Italian move to offer him asylum. But in Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has made no public comment on the case. Religion is a sensitive issue in Afghanistan where hundreds took to the streets this week demanding Rahman either convert back to Islam or be put to death.

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