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Afghan convert says ready to die for Christianity

Written by: Staff

ROME, Mar 26 (Reuters) An Afghan man who faces a possible death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity has told an Italian newspaper he is ready to die for his new faith.

''I don't want to die. But if God decides, I am ready to confront my choices, all the way,'' Abdur Rahman was quoted as saying in today's La Repubblica.

The Italian newspaper conducted the interview by sending Rahman written questions via a human rights worker who visited him in jail outside Kabul.

Rahman, 40, could be hanged if found guilty of apostasy, which is punishable by death under Sharia (Islamic) law). His trial is due to start in a few days.

Rahman said he would defend himself in court as no lawyer would want to. He also said he did not want to leave Afghanistan, a possible option if he is allowed to go free.

When asked if he would go abroad, he said: ''Perhaps, but if I flee again that would mean my country hasn't changed. It would mean that they have won, our enemies. Without human rights, without respect for all religions, the Taliban have won.'' His case has sparked outrage in the United States and Europe and threatens to drive a wedge between Afghanistan and the Western backers who secure and finance the country.

US President George W. Bush and several other Western leaders have expressed concern about Rahman's fate. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday she had spoken to Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the issue.

Pope Benedict wrote to Karzai asking that the charges be dropped, an act that would ''bestow great honour upon the Afghan people and would raise a chorus of admiration in the international community''.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM International pressure on Afghanistan to respect Rahman's religious freedom has been met in Afghanistan by calls for him to be executed, and a threat of rebellion if the government frees him.

Rahman said he converted to Christianity after leaving Afghanistan 16 years ago. In Pakistan he worked for a humanitarian organisation where Catholics told him of their faith. ''I read the Bible and it opened my heart and mind,'' he said.

When Rahman returned to Afghanistan after working in Germany, the wife and two daughters he had left behind 16 years earlier reported him to the authorities, saying he forced them to read the Bible and recite Christian prayers, something he denies.

''It's not true. When I returned, I explained the choice I had made,'' he said. ''It wasn't a provocation. They saw I wasn't praying with them and that I was reading the Bible. They asked me and I told the truth. I had become a Christian.

''I have done nothing to repent, I respect Afghan law as I respect Islam. But I chose to become a Christian, for myself, for my soul. It is not an offence.'' REUTERS DKS BS1538

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