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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Taleban justice clouded in uncertainty
Abdul Rehman Ottaq (centre) flanked by unidentified Taleban officials
The Taleban have refused consular access
By Kate Clark in Islamabad

Since Afghanistan's ruling Taleban arrested eight foreigners and 16 Afghans on charges of proselytising, there has been only confusion as to what charges and what punishments they might face.

Ultimately the Taleban supreme leader will decide what charges and what punishments the detainees will face

The Taleban chief justice has publicly called for the severest punishments possible - so there is no question that the defendants might be considered innocent until proved guilty.

Diplomats and journalists have spent many hours trying to work out which of two decrees, both forbidding the preaching of Christianity, could be applied.

Food handover
The diplomats have been allowed to hand over food
One carries the death penalty. The other, applicable only to foreigners, sets a lesser sentence of deportation after a short prison term.

In the end neither decree could be applied.

Every Taleban official who has spoken about this case has said it will be decided under the Islamic code and by the Taleban's supreme leader, Mullah Omar.

His word is above the law in Afghanistan. Ultimately he will decide what charges and what punishments the detainees will face.

It is not even certain that they will have a chance to answer the charges in a court of law.

Ultimate authority

Recently, four men accused of carrying out bomb attacks in Kabul were hanged - according to Taleban news reports, on Mullah Omar's word alone.

Foreign Minister Mutawakkil
Foreign Minister Mutawakkil: The public face of the Taleban

The reports said that after accurate investigation and confessions, Mullah Omar considered the evidence and according to his religious authority the men were condemned to death.

There was no mention of a trial. Mullah Omar rarely leaves his home in the southern city of Kandahar and virtually never meets non-Muslims.

Westerners trying to influence him must do so through intermediaries but at the moment the Western diplomats in Kabul have been allowed to meet only junior Taleban officials.

BBC's Afghanistan Correspondent Kate Clark
"The Taleban have refused to comment on possible punishments"
See also:

16 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban snub diplomats
14 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban deny access to aid detainees
12 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'investigate' aid workers
09 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban ease foreigner restrictions
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
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