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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006, 17:01 GMT
Afghan convert 'may be released'
Abdul Rahman is interviewed during a hearing in Kabul
I am not a deserter and not an infidel
Abdul Rahman

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is leading efforts to resolve the issue of a man possibly facing execution for converting to Christianity.

Talks have been going on in Kabul to discuss the fate of Abdul Rahman who "could be released soon" officials say.

Mr Rahman is on trial charged with rejecting Islam. He could be executed under Sharia law unless he reconverts.

The emergency meeting was called after growing international pressure on Afghanistan about the trial.

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"For the sake of the national interest of 25 million Afghans, the president is trying to solve the issue," an Afghan official told the BBC.

Several countries with troops in Afghanistan have expressed their concern on the issue.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said on Friday: "This is appalling. When I saw the report about this I felt sick, literally."

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai seeking a "favourable resolution" to the case.

Mounting criticism

Austria, current holders of the European Union's rotating presidency, said it would strive to protect Mr Rahman.

"We will leave no stone unturned to protect the fundamental rights of Abdul Rahman and to save his life," Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said.

Pope Benedict XVI has written to Mr Karzai, calling for clemency and appealing "for respect for human rights sanctioned in the preamble of the new Afghan constitution", the Italian Ansa news agency reported.

Afghan supreme court judge Ansarullah Mawlafizada holding the bible he says belonged to the accused
The trial reflects tensions between conservative clerics and reformists

The criticism has prompted the Afghan government to intervene in the matter.

But, the Afghan judiciary is dominated by religious conservatives, and many feel it will be difficult for the president and the government to confront the judiciary, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Kabul says.

The bigger problem confronting the president, however, may be that an overwhelming number of ordinary Afghans appear to believe Mr Rahman has erred and deserves to be executed, our correspondent says.

On Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that he had received assurance from Mr Karzai that Mr Rahman would not be executed.

"He [Karzai] certainly conveyed to me that we don't have to worry about any such eventual outcome.

"He had already spoken prior to my call to the attorney-general of Afghanistan about dealing with the situation," he told a news conference.

'I am not an infidel'

Mr Rahman converted 16 years ago as an aid worker helping refugees in Pakistan. His estranged family denounced him during a custody dispute over his two children.

We know there's a lot of international concern... We want to resolve this in a way that accommodates all expectations
Afghan official

His mental health was questioned by the judge earlier in the week and on Thursday prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari said there were doubts about whether he was fit to stand trial under Sharia law.

But Mr Rahman told the court: "They want to sentence me to death and I accept it, but I am not a deserter and not an infidel. I am a Christian, which means I believe in the Trinity."

Observers say executing a converted Christian would be a significant precedent as a conservative interpretation of Sharia law in Afghanistan.

Mr Rahman's is thought to be Afghanistan's first such trial, reflecting tensions between conservative clerics and reformists.


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