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Pope Benedict Seeks Clemency for Afghan Convert

The Italian news agency Ansa says Pope Benedict has asked Afghan President Hamid Karzai to pardon an Afghan man who faces possible execution for converting to Christianity.

The news report says the appeal came in a letter sent to Mr. Karzai through the pope's Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. In it, the pontiff appeals for respect of human rights sanctioned in the preamble of the new Afghan constitution.

Mr. Karzai is under growing pressure from Western governments over the controversial case. Some reports from the Afghan capital said President Hamid Karzai is taking part Saturday in an emergency meeting of senior officials convened in Kabul to address the issue.

Abdur Rahman was detained last week for converting to Christianity 15 years ago. Afghan officials said he could face the death penalty if he refuses to become a Muslim again.

Afghanistan's Economic Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang told VOA that the Karzai administration is well aware of the international attention the case has created.

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

Earlier, several Afghan authorities suggested the man could be released within two days. Friday, a number of religious leaders warned they would incite people to kill Rahman if he does not return to Islam.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.