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Afghan Judge Rejects Case Against Christian Convert


A judge in Afghanistan has reportedly rejected much of the evidence in the case against an Afghan Muslim who converted to Christianity. The case has been referred back to the prosecutors for review. Prosecutors may dismiss the charges.

The ruling is a major setback for the prosecution. The 41-year old defendant, Abdur Rahman, was charged with converting to Christianity 15 years ago, a charge that carries the death penalty.

The presiding judge reportedly ruled that the case against Rahman lacks sufficient evidence, and contains a series of technical flaws.

The prosecuting attorney, Zemerai Amiri, says he is reviewing the judge's decision, which also raised concerns regarding Rahman's mental state.

The prosecutor says Rahman would undergo a thorough medical exam to see if he is fit for trial.

In the meantime, officials say, Rahman could be released from his Kabul jail cell, perhaps as early as Monday.

These developments come amid growing demands from abroad for an end to the controversial trial.

Leaders from around the world, including President Bush, urged Afghanistan to drop the charges against Rahman, and uphold principles of religious freedom.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, appearing on the Fox News Sunday television program, said the issue is not closed.

"Obviously, there will continue to be discussions in Afghanistan, and between Afghanistan and the international community, about the importance of religious freedom, about adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," said Condoleezza Rice. "But we have to recognize that this is an evolutionary process."

Senior Afghan officials met Saturday in Kabul to discuss the case, and reportedly consider ways to avoid further controversy.

Speaking to reporters Sunday, the senior judge in charge of the case, Ansarullah Moulaviezada, insisted the court's decision was in no way influenced by the political concerns.

He says there was never any pressure on the court, and the proceedings were entirely free and fair.

But concerns remain that failure to prosecute the case could inflame local sentiment. On Friday, a number of religious leaders warned they would incite people to kill Rahman themselves, if he did not return to Islam.