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Last Updated: Friday, 31 March 2006, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Afghan convert 'would be killed'
Abdul Rahman is interviewed during a hearing in Kabul
Abdul Rahman converted to Christianity 16 years ago
An Afghan man who could have faced the death penalty for becoming a Christian has said he would probably have been killed had he remained in Afghanistan.

Speaking to journalists in Italy, where he has been given asylum, Abdul Rahman, 41, thanked Pope Benedict XVI for leading the campaign to have him freed.

He said he never wanted to return to Afghanistan and was concerned for the safety of his family there.

Afghan MPs have condemned his release and said he should have not have left.

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

If you are not a Muslim in an Islamic country like mine they kill you, there are no doubts
Abdul Rahman

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

Mr Rahman spoke to journalists soon after Italy formally granted him asylum on the grounds of religious persecution.

"In Kabul they would have killed me, I'm sure of it," he said.

"If you are not a Muslim in an Islamic country like mine they kill you, there are no doubts."

He said he was "happy" to be in Italy and thanked the pope for "having acted on my behalf".

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Mr Rahman is now under protection at a secret location in Italy, the interior ministry has said.

There had been an international outcry at the prospect of the Christian convert being executed for his religious beliefs.

The Pope wrote to Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week, saying that dropping the case "would bestow great honour upon the Afghan people and would raise a chorus of admiration in the international community".

Denounced by relatives

Politicians in Afghanistan opposed Mr Rahman's release from trial as "contrary to the laws in place in Afghanistan", and condemned Western "interference" on his behalf.

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

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.




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