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Bush troubled by Afghan convert facing death

Written by: Staff

Washington, Mar 23 (UNI) US President George W Bush says he is deeply troubled by the case of an Afghan man who could face the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity.

During a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia state yesterday, Mr Bush said ''We have got influence in Afghanistan and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values. It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would persecute someone for converting to Christianity.'' Saying he shared the concerns of many Americans about the case, the US President expressed the hope that the Afghan officials would honour the universal principle of freedom.

He said he would try and resolve the issue diplomatically and was planning to talk with the authorities in Kabul about the case of 41-year-old Abdul Rahman who, under the country's Islamic law, could be executed if he refused to return to the Islamic faith.

Rahman was arrested two weeks ago after his parents told the police about his conversion to Christianity sixteen years ago while he was living abroad. Under Afghan law, if he did not revert to Islam before a second court appearance sometime in the next two months, he could receive the death penalty.

Asked about the convert during a question-and-answer session after Mr Bush delivered a speech on issues confronting the nation, he said he looked forward to working with the Afghans to establish protection for religious freedom, but acknowledged Afghanistan faced challenges in trying ''to rebuild a country that had been occupied and then traumatised by the Taliban''.

Four NATO allies with troops in Afghanistan, the United States, Canada, Germany, and Italy, have expressed concern about the case.

Afghan Supreme Court officials said Abdul Rahman he would be examined to determine if he was mentally fit to stand trial. If he was not, they said they might drop the case.

Meanwhile, the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington DC said its judicial system was evaluating questions raised regarding Abdul Rahman.

In a statement released yesterday, the Embassy said the judicial process should be given time to resolve the case of Rahman. It said Afghanistan's constitution provided protection for freedom of religion, and Kabul would ensure that his constitutional and due process rights were respected in the controversial case.

In a statement, the international human rights group Amnesty International called on Afghan authorities to uphold international law. The group said as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the government was bound to uphold Article 18 of the covenant - which provided that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.


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