Afghanistan's judiciary will not bow to outside pressure
KABUL, Mar 23: Afghanistan's judiciary will not bow to outside pressure over the fate of a man who faces the death penalty for converting to Christianity, a judge dealing with the case today said.
US President George W. Bush said he was deeply troubled by the case of Abdur Rahman, who an Afghan judge said this week had been jailed for converting from Islam to Christianity and could face death if he refused to become a Muslim again.
Death is one of the punishments stipulated by sharia, or Islamic law, for apostasy. The Afghan legal system is based on a mix of civil and sharia law.
''Afghanistan is an Islamic country and its judiciary will act independently and neutrally,'' Supreme Court judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada told Reuters.
''No other policy will be accepted apart from Islamic orders and what our constitution says,'' Mawlavizada said, adding he was saddened by the international outcry.
The case is sensitive for President Hamid Karzai who depends on foreign troops to battle Taliban and al Qaeda militants, and aid to support the economy, but also has to take into consideration views of conservative proponents of Islamic law.
Several countries supporting Afghanistan with troops and aid, including the United States, Canada, Italy and Germany, as well as the United Nations, have raised concern about Rahman's fate and called for freedom of religion.
Rahman, 40, has yet to be formally charged.
A prosecutor has raised questions about his mental state and a cabinet minister said he would not be executed if he were found to be unstable.
Rahman told a preliminary hearing last week he became a Christian while working for an aid group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan 15 years ago.
''I'm not an apostate. I'm obedient to God but I'm a Christian, that's my choice,'' Rahman told the hearing. He also said he was not mentally ill and would defend himself. Analysts say the case could hinge on interpretations of the country's new constitution, which says ''no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam and the values of the constitution''.
It also says Afghanistan will abide by international agreements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one's religion.
The United States, which counts Karzai as a key ally, has raised the case with Afghanistan.
''It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another,'' Bush said yesterday.
''We have got influence in Afghanistan and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values,'' he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Karzai assured him in a telephone call ''that respect for human and religious rights will be fully upheld''. Canada has 2,500 troops in the southern city of Kandahar and commands a NATO mission there.
Mawlavizada, who presided over the preliminary hearing, said proceedings against Rahman would begin in the next few days.
''We will try to see if he converts to Islam, for Islam is the religion of compassion. But if he does not, Islamic law will be enforced,'' he said, adding that Karzai would have the final say.
Death sentences have to be upheld by the president in the past.
The controversy comes weeks after 11 Afghans were killed in riots over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad published in European newspapers.
Riots erupted last year after a US magazine reported that US military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran. The magazine retracted the report but the US military later confirmed several cases of ''mishandling'' of the holy book.
Afghanistan is a conservative Islamic country and 99 per cent of its more than 25 million people are Muslim. A court sentenced two Afghan journalists to death for blasphemy three years ago but they escaped and sought asylum abroad.