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Afghan convert case hinges on mental check

Written by: Staff

KABUL, Mar 27 (Reuters) A prosecutor responsible for a case against an Afghan man who could face the death penalty for converting to Christianity said today the case against him depends on the result of a mental examination.

The presiding judge said yesterday the case against the man who abandoned Islam, Abdur Rahman, 40, had flaws and had been referred back to prosecutors, raising expectations the case would collapse and the man would be released.

''Rahman will be sent for a medical examination ... a decision will be made on the basis of the examination,'' said the prosecutor, Zemarai, who uses only one name.

Analysts say a ruling that he is unstable is expected to result in the case being dropped.

Rahman, who was detained this month for rejecting Islam and converting to Christianity, has denied he is mentally unstable.

Death is the punishment stipulated by sharia, or Islamic law, for apostasy -- abandonment of the faith.

The case raised a storm of protest in the West, threatening to create a rift between Afghanistan and the United States and other Western backers who have called for the man's release.

The government of President Hamid Karzai has been searching for a way out of the crisis, trying to satisfy Western demands while not angering powerful conservatives at home who have demanded a trial and death sentence under Islamic law.

In the first protest over the case, several hundred people led by clerics demonstrated in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, demanding Rahman be tried under Islamic law.

''America stop interference, Karzai enforce justice, he should be punished,'' one cleric told the crowd.

Afghanistan saw violent protests last month over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad published in European newspapers. Protests last year over a U S magazine report that U S interrogators had desecrated the Koran at a U S military prison were also violent.

Zemarai declined to give details of Rahman's examination but said it would take place today.

A spokesman for the Supreme Court said yesterday, as well as the mental examination, checks were also necessary to see if Rahman had a second nationality. He did not elaborate.

Rahman told a preliminary hearing two weeks ago he had become a Christian while working for an aid group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan 15 years ago.

He later lived in Germany before returning to Afghanistan.

He was detained after his family told authorities he had converted to Christianity, apparently following a dispute involving two daughters, a judicial official said.

Reuters SHB DB1147

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