[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Monday, 27 March 2006, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
Afghans protest against convert
Afghans attending Friday prayers in Kabul
Many Afghans are not happy with the decision to dismiss the case
Several hundred people have protested in northern Afghanistan against a decision to dismiss a case against a man who converted to Christianity.

Abdul Rahman's case has been handed back to the attorney-general because of gaps in the evidence, an official said.

The decision to release Mr Rahman came amid mounting international criticism over the issue.

Mr Rahman, a Christian for 16 years, was charged with rejecting Islam and potentially faced the death penalty.

QUICK GUIDE

Afghanistan's legal system is built on Islamic Sharia law, and Mr Rahman could have faced execution if he had refused to renounce Christianity.

Domestic pressure

The Afghan government has come under considerable domestic pressure over the case, says the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Kabul.

We're going to stand firm for the principle that religious freedom and freedom of religious conscience need to be upheld
US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice

More than a thousand protesters took to the streets in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Monday morning.

They demanded that Mr Rahman be tried and executed for converting to Christianity.

With chants of "Death to Bush!", they warned the international community to keep off the case.

Afghanistan has an Islamic constitution which must be respected, they said.

It is a measure of the difficulties confronting the Afghan government and the country's President Hamid Karzai.

Abdul Rahman is interviewed during a hearing in Kabul
Abdul Rahman converted to Christianity 16 years ago

Mr Karzai has personally intervened in the case, mindful of the growing international pressure, much of it from countries which are his closest allies.

At the same time, he faces considerable opposition from religious hardliners both within and outside his administration. He will be hoping that the case can be disposed of and the damage limited before it gets out of hand.

Details of Mr Rahman's imminent release are being kept secret, as feelings in Kabul have run high over the case.

'Mental issues'

Earlier, Mr Rahman's family asked the court to dismiss the case against him, saying he suffered from mental illness.

Some reports say Mr Rahman was taken to a mental institution on Monday for tests.

Supreme Court Judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada told the BBC there was considerable doubt that Mr Rahman was fit to stand trial.

According to Judge Mawlavizada, Mr Rahman appeared "disturbed".

He said the accused man's relatives had told the authorities he was insane and that they claimed Mr Rahman had said he heard strange voices in his head.

The judge also said it was not clear if the accused was really an Afghan or a citizen of another country.

Mr Rahman has lived outside Afghanistan for 16 years and is believed to have converted to Christianity during a stay in Germany.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Court spokesman explains the decision



RELATED BBC LINKS:

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific