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Judge in Islam-Christianity Case Vows To Resist Any International Pressure

By Abdul Waheed Wafa
THE NEW YORK TIMES


KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

The judge presiding over the prosecution of an Afghan man facing the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity said Thursday that international pressure would not affect his rulings in the case.

Ansarullah Mawlavi Zada, the head of the public security tribunal here in the Afghan capital, said he had received no international pressure to date, but vowed to resist it.

“There is no direct pressure on our court so far, but if it happens we will consider it as an interference,” said Zada. He added that he expects to rule in the case in the next several days.

The judge’s comments came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister in a meeting in Washington on Thursday that she was deeply troubled by the case, the Associated Press reported.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Rice told Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah that the prosecution was “contrary to universal democratic values,” which include freedom of religion. Rice said that the United States fought for those values in Afghanistan, and that the case was contrary to the Afghan constitution, McCormack said.

On Wednesday, President Bush issued a statement that the United States expected Afghan officials to “honor the universal principle of freedom” in the case. Germany, Italy and other countries that have deployed troops in Afghanistan have also issued statements of concern.

Afghan prosecutors have requested the death penalty for the 41-year-old convert, Abdul Rahman. Rahman told a preliminary hearing in Afghanistan last week that he converted to Christianity about 15 years ago while working with a Christian aid group helping refugees. When he recently sought custody of his children from his parents, family members reported his conversion.

Prosecutors have described Rahman as a “microbe” and said conversion is illegal under Islamic law. Conservative Afghan religious leaders dominate the country’s courts and prosecutorial offices, but Afghanistan’s American-backed constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

The case illustrates the continued tensions between Afghan President Hamid Karzai, an American-backed religious moderate, and religious hardliners who dominate the country’s courts. Over the last several years conservative judges have threatened to close Afghan television stations that aired material they deemed indecent and charged journalists with publishing material they declared blasphemous.

In the past, Karzai has defused clashes with conservative judges by failing to implement their rulings or striking closed-door compromises with them. Rahman’s case has attracted far more attention than others and sparked vocal complaints from American Christian groups.

On Thursday, an aide to Karzai said that the case would be decided by the Afghan court system. Mawlavi Muhaiuddin Baloch, Karzai’s adviser on religious affairs, said the case belonged in court and that Afghanistan’s judiciary was independent.