Rice Presses Karzai on Convert's Life

Muslim clerics are adamant that Abdul Rahman, above, holding a Bible, be executed for converting to Christianity.
Muslim clerics are adamant that Abdul Rahman, above, holding a Bible, be executed for converting to Christianity. (Reuters Television)

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Associated Press
Friday, March 24, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 23 -- Senior Muslim clerics demanded Thursday that an Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity be executed, warning that if the government caves in to Western pressure and frees him, they will incite people to "pull him into pieces."

In an unusual move, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned President Hamid Karzai on Thursday seeking what she called a "satisfactory outcome" of the case of Abdul Rahman. The 41-year-old former medical aid worker faces the death penalty under Afghanistan's Islamic laws for becoming a Christian.

His trial has fired passions in this conservative Muslim nation and highlighted a conflict of values between Afghanistan and its Western backers.

"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hard-line regime was ousted in 2001.

The trial, which began last week, has caused an international outcry. President Bush has said he is "deeply troubled" by the case and expects the country to "honor the universal principle of freedom."

Rice told reporters in Washington on Thursday the case was "a very deeply concerning development" and she had "raised it in the strongest possible terms" with Karzai. "There is no more fundamental issue for the United States than freedom of religion and religious conscience," she said. "This country was founded on that basis, and it is at the heart of democracy."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters she had received assurances from Karzai in a telephone call that Rahman would not be sentenced to death.

"I have the impression that he has a firm willingness" to abide by human rights requirements, Merkel said of Karzai as she headed to pre-European Union summit talks. "I hope we will be able to resolve this."

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