Monday, March 20, 2006

Afghanistan: Kabul apostasy trial

Date: Monday 20 March 2006
Subj: Afghanistan: Kabul apostasy trial
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

----------------------------------
AFGHANISTAN: KABUL APOSTASY TRIAL
----------------------------------

On Monday 26 January 2004 Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai signed the new Afghanistan Constitution into law. While many rejoiced and hailed the document as a great leap forward, most religious liberty monitors and advocates despaired.

Article Two
Ch. 1, Art. 2
The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.
Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Article Three
Ch. 1, Art. 3
In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."

(http://www.afghan-web.com/politics/current_constitution.html OR
http://www.af/constitution/ (English translations vary slightly.))

In effect, the requirement of Article Three abrogates any perceived suggestion of religious liberty in Article Two.

A groundbreaking case is about to test Afghanistan's Constitution and the constitution of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. An Afghan Christian is presently on trial in Kabul charged with rejecting Islam. He faces the death penalty if he refuses to renounce his Christian faith and return to Islam.

There have been vigilante executions of apostates in Afghanistan in recent years. Between June and September 2004 five Afghan believers, including martyr Mullah Assad Ullah, were stabbed or beaten to death in summary executions by Taliban adherents who accused them of abandoning Islam and then "spreading Christianity" in their communities (Compass Direct 10 Sept 2004). Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi told newsgroup Reuters, "A group of Taliban dragged out Mullah Assad Ullah and slit his throat with a knife because he was propagating Christianity."

But the trial of Abdul Rahman is the first trial of its kind since the fall of the Taliban, and will be a test case for Afghanistan and for President Karzai. Fear and Islamic zeal are running high in Afghanistan in the wake of resurgent Taliban terror, the Guantanamo Bay Qur'an desecration controversy (or myth) of May 2005, and the recent Cartoon Intifada violence of February 2006. President Karzai will be under immense internal pressure to prove his Islamic credentials and uphold "the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam", while he should also be under immense external pressure from his donors and allies to defend Abdul Rahman's fundamental human right to religious freedom.

KABUL APOSTASY TRIAL

Daniel Cooney, writing for the Associated Press (AP), explains that the defendant, "41-year-old Abdul Rahman, was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian". (Link 1)

The trigger for the case appears to be a custody dispute.

Judge Ansarullah Mawlavazada told AP that during a one-day hearing last Thursday 16 March, Abdul Rahman confessed to converting from Islam to Christianity some 16 years ago while he was working as a medical Aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Associated Press reports that after four years in Pakistan, Rahman moved to Germany, where he lived for nine years. Rahman's father told AP that Rahman returned to Afghanistan in 2002 and tried to gain custody of his two daughters, now aged 13 and 14, who had been living with their grandparents their whole lives. AP reports, "A custody battle ensued and the matter was taken to the police. During questioning, it emerged that Rahman was a Christian and was carrying a Bible. He was immediately arrested and charged."

Judge Mawlavazada says Abdul Rahman could face the death penalty if he refuses to revert to Islam as Sharia law proposes capital punishment for any Muslim who converts to another religion. As Afghanistan's constitution states: "No law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam." (Link 2: this Middle East Times article contains a Reuters photograph of Judge Ansarullah Mawlavazada holding up Abdul Rahman's Bible as evidence.)

Daily Times of Pakistan reports (Monday 20 March), "Afghan police have detained a man for converting from Islam to Christianity, a judge said on Sunday, adding the man could face the death penalty if he refused to become a Muslim again.

"Islamic Sharia law proposes the death sentence for Muslims who abandon the religion. Afghanistan's new constitution says 'no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam'.

"Supreme Court judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada said the suspect, Abdur Rahman, was arrested after members of his family informed police of his conversion.

"He would be charged in coming days with abandoning Islam, Mawlavizada said. 'The prosecutor says he should be executed on the basis of the constitution,' Mawlavizada said, who added that Rahman could come back to Islam. 'If he does not ... he will be punished,' he said." (Link 3)

Associated Press spoke to Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the state-sponsored Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission who also notes that Afghanistan's constitution is based on Sharia law which is interpreted by many Muslims as mandating death for apostates. (Link 1)

Judge Mawlavizada told AP he would rule on the case within two months. AP reports that all attempts to interview Abdul Rahman in detention were barred.

AP reports, "The prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, said he had offered to drop the charges if Rahman converted back to Islam, but he refused. 'He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one,' Wasi told AP. 'We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty.'" (Link 1)

KARZAI'S CHOICE

Benjamin Sand reports for Voice of America, "The court has ordered a delay in the proceedings to give Rahman time to hire an attorney. Under Afghan law, once a verdict is given, the case can be appealed twice to higher courts.

"This is the first case in which the defendant has admitted to converting and is refusing to back down, even while facing the death penalty.

"If convicted, the case could ultimately force President Hamid Karzai's direct intervention.

"The president would have to sign the papers authorizing Rahman's execution, a move that could jeopardize Mr. Karzai's standing with human rights groups and Western governments.

"So far, President Karzai has not commented on the case.

"But political analysts here in Kabul say he will be under significant pressure from the country's hard-line religious groups to make an example of Rahman." (Link 4)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Afghan Christian Could Get Death Sentence
Daniel Cooney. KABUL, Afghanistan, 19 March 2006 (AP)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-5697060,00.html

2) Christian convert faces execution in Afghanistan
Reuters 19 March 2006
http://www.metimes.com/articles/normal.php?StoryID=20060319-072838-8361r

3)Afghans detain man suspected of abandoning Islam.
Daily Times. 20 March 2006
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2006%5C03%5C20%5Cstory_20-3-2006_pg4_17

4) Afghan Man Faces Execution After Converting to Christianity
By Benjamin Sand. Kabul.18 March 2006
http://www.voanews.com/english/2006-03-18-voa7.cfm