Afghan President Hamid Karzai has defended the release of a man who had faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity.

At a gathering of judges and clerics in Kabul Tuesday, Mr. Karzai acknowledged that the issue is sensitive for Muslims, but said he is thankful that the courts were not influenced by sentiments.

It was Mr. Karzai's first public comment on the case of Abdur Rahman, 41, who was jailed in March for his conversion.  Last week, he was released for lack of evidence and has since taken asylum in Italy.

Rahman's case attracted wide international attention in the West, but there was little sympathy for him at home, where apostasy is considered a capital offense.

Some Muslim clerics had called on ordinary citizens to kill Rahman, if the state did not act.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.