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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Diplomats 'will visit Afghan aid workers'
Afghan men
Trying to convert Muslims is an offence
The Taleban authorities in Afghanistan say that diplomats will get visas to visit eight foreign aid workers being held in Kabul on charges of promoting Christianity.


I am sure they will meet the authorities and they also will be given access to the evidence including the detainees.

Taleban diplomat Sohail Shaheen
Sohail Shaheen, the Taleban's deputy head of mission in neighbouring Pakistan, said he expected to get clearance for the Pakistani-based diplomats on Thursday or on Saturday - Friday is a Muslim holiday in Afghanistan.

A total of 24 staff working for the German-based Shelter Now International (SNI) charity were arrested on Sunday for allegedly trying to spread Christianity - an offence under Islamic Sharia law in Afghanistan.

The detained workers include four Germans, two Australians and two Americans. The others are all are Afghans.

New decree

Although the death penalty is normally stipulated for anyone trying to convert Muslims, a code of conduct for foreigners released in June allows for imprisonment of up to one month or expulsion.

Materials seized
The Taleban say they have evidence against the aid workers
Jurisdiction over foreigners is given to the Taleban Ministry of Foreign Affairs rather than the hardline religious police.

An Australian High Commission envoy in Pakistan described the situation for the detainees as "very uncertain and confused".

But he said the diplomats' purpose was not argue for clemency. He said if the foreigners had done anything wrong they would have to answer to the law of the land.

He said: "We're just focusing on getting access to ensure their welfare and safety and to see if they want some legal representation."

Taleban Deputy Foreign Minister Mowlawi Abdurraham Zahed said that Shelter Now's Kabul office would be shut down because the group "was promulgating Christianity and there was no room for such an office in Afghanistan".

'Evidence'

On Wednesday, the Taleban said they had recovered thousands of Christian video and audio tapes, and bibles translated into local languages from the aid workers.

However, Shelter Now says the material was for personal use.

Shelter Now describes itself as a non-governmental organisation involved in food distribution, water supplies and helping street children.

The Taleban, however, say the group's activities are a front for propagating Christianity.

See also:

09 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban ease foreigner restrictions
06 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban crackdown on Christian relief
08 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban hang four in public
29 May 01 | South Asia
Afghan UN bread talks fail
28 Jun 00 | South Asia
Annan: Kabul's grim future
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
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