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Pope seeks clemency for Afghan convert

Written by: Staff

VATICAN CITY, Mar 25 (Reuters) Pope Benedict has written to Afghan President Hamid Karzai urging clemency for an Afghan man facing a possible death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity, the Italian news agency ANSA said today.

Benedict sent a letter in the past few days ''which appeals for respect for human rights sanctioned in the preamble of the new Afghan constitution,'' it added.

Vatican officials could not immediately comment on the report, which said the Pope sent the letter through his Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

President George Bush and several other Western leaders have expressed grave concern at the threatened death penalty for Abdur Rahman, 40. Sharia (Islamic law), on which Afghan law is partly based, stipulates death for apostasy.

International pressure on Afghanistan to respect Rahman's religious freedom and release him from jail has been met in Afghanistan by calls for him to be tried under Islamic law and executed, and a threat of rebellion if the government frees him.

The controversy threatens to drive a wedge between Afghanistan and the Western backers who ensure its security and finance its development. Rahman's trial is due to start in a few days.

Reuters SHR BD2113

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