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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 March 2006, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Afghan convert 'arrives in Italy'
Abdul Rahman is interviewed during a hearing in Kabul
Abdul Rahman converted to Christianity 16 years ago
An Afghan man who escaped a possible death sentence for becoming a Christian has arrived in Italy where he has been granted asylum, says Italy's PM.

Afghan MPs had earlier demanded Abdul Rahman, 41, stay in the country.

"He is already in Italy. I think he arrived overnight," Silvio Berlusconi said on Wednesday, hours after his cabinet approved the asylum plea.

Mr Rahman was freed on Monday after being deemed mentally unfit to stand trial on a charge of apostasy.


It is unclear when he arrived in Italy.

Shortly before Mr Berlusconi addressed reporters in Rome, an Italian embassy official in Kabul confirmed that Mr Rahman had left Afghanistan and said he was due in Italy later on Wednesday.

Applications for political asylum in Italy normally take months to process, but Mr Berlusconi and several colleagues had said previously they favoured a quick decision in Mr Rahman's favour, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.

Mr Rahman, who had been charged with rejecting Islam, had been held at a secret location since his release from Kabul's high security Pul-e-Charki prison.


Suggestions he might be offered asylum have outraged politicians in Afghanistan.

Silvio Berlusconi
I say that we are very glad to be able to welcome someone who has been so courageous
Silvio Berlusconi

The issue was discussed in the Afghan parliament on Wednesday, with almost all MPs in agreement that "his leaving Afghanistan must be prohibited", the AFP news agency reported.

Dr Assadullah Hymatyar, an MP from Logar province, told the BBC that parliament was planning to investigate the events that led to Mr Rahman's release.

"We will ask the judge to explain to us why he was released. In the beginning they said he was mentally fit. So why is he mentally unfit now?" he asked.

"If he is really mentally unfit, then that's a separate issue. But if not we will ask the judge why he allowed international pressure to influence him."

There had been an international outcry at the prospect of Mr Rahman being executed for his religious beliefs, but Afghan legislators said the decision to release him from trial for apostasy was "contrary to the laws in place in Afghanistan".


Italy was among a number of countries which spoke out on Mr Rahman's behalf when news of his detention emerged.

Mr Berlusconi told Associated Press Television News: "I say that we are very glad to be able to welcome someone who has been so courageous."

The case has highlighted ambiguities in Afghanistan's constitution over the interpretation of religious issues.

Conversion, or apostasy, is a crime under Afghanistan's Islamic law.

Mr Rahman, who converted 16 years ago while working as an aid worker for an international Christian group, was arrested after police discovered him with a Bible.

An ethnic Tajik originally from the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, Mr Rahman returned to Afghanistan a few years ago.

It is thought that he was denounced by relatives after returning to seek custody of his two daughters. His family alleged he forced them to read the Bible, something he has denied.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Mr Rahman said: "I have done nothing to repent, I respect Afghan law as I respect Islam. But I chose to become a Christian, for myself, for my soul. It is not an offence."

Why Italy has offered Abdul Rahman asylum


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