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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Confusion over Afghan aid trial
Taleban news conference
Mr Muttawakil (left) says strict rules will be applied to charities
The Taleban authorities in Afghanistan are still refusing open access to the trial of eight foreigners accused of preaching Christianity in Afghanistan, which is now in its third day.

Judges at the Supreme Court have continued to examine police reports behind closed doors after the trial began in Afghan capital Kabul on Tuesday.

There have been conflicting statements as to whether the second phase of the trial - when the defendants should have a chance to answer the accusations against them - will be open or not.

Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil had said the second phase of the trial of the eight foreigners would be open.

The minister said diplomats, journalists and relatives of the accused would also be allowed to attend once the initial phase of the proceedings was completed.

Confusion

But the man in charge of the court case - the Taleban Chief Justice Mullah Saqib - has said the decision has yet to be made.

Taleban foreign ministry official holds children's bible
A Taleban official holds a children's bible

"Honourable scholars" would decide at the appropriate time, he told the official news agency.

Mullah Saqib said the Supreme Court might summon them for investigation and questioning.

But later, during the second phase of the trial, he said they would have a chance to defend themselves or hire lawyers to do so on their behalf.

The Chief Justice has back-tracked on comments he made on Wednesday that the eight foreigners could face the death penalty if their crime merited execution under Islamic law.

He has now said it was too early to make any determination of penalties, but he is already on record as having called for the severest punishments possible, says the BBC correspondent in Islamabad.

Strict rules

Foreign Minister Muttawakil has said that the Taleban intend to apply rules regarding the operation of aid agencies much more strictly.

He said foreign agencies, including the United Nations, would only be able to hire staff approved by the Taleban Foreign Ministry and that all funding would have to be channelled through the national bank.

Diplomats are concerned that their nationals should get a free trial and that proceedings should be transparent but it is still not known exactly what charges the eight face.

Christian poem
A poem about Christianity is part of the evidence

It is not even certain that they know that legal proceedings have begun.

The foreigners were moved to an unknown detention centre just before the trial started.

Relatives have been allowed to visit the detainees at the new location.

The Taleban have said that 16 Afghans arrested at the same time, also workers with the aid agency Shelter Now International, will be tried at a later date.

See also:

05 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'may execute' aid workers
01 Sep 01 | South Asia
Foreign volunteers leave Kabul
27 Aug 01 | South Asia
Jailed Kabul aid workers 'well'
26 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban softens stance
25 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Modern missionaries
17 Aug 01 | South Asia
Taleban justice clouded in uncertainty
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
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