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Afghanistan: Christian Convert Gets Mental Tests In Apostasy Trial

Abdul Rahman on 23 March in a Kabul court (AFP) An Afghan man who faces a possible death sentence for converting to Christianity has undergone mental tests that could spare him from execution. Prosecutors say the apostasy case against 41-year-old Abdul Rahman depends on what Afghan doctors say about his mental condition. Meanwhile, debate continues in Afghanistan and around the world about the controversial case.

PRAGUE, March 27, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- State prosecutors in Afghanistan say the fate of an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity depends upon a report by doctors at an Afghan mental health hospital.

The Afghan Supreme Court on March 26 decided to suspend the trial against Abdul Rahman until there is more evidence about his mental competence. He underwent tests today.

"Unfortunately these religious scholars who were being quoted in the Afghan case are mistaking the simple act of conversion for treason. They are totally different things."

Is He Insane?

Prosecutor-General Zemaray Hamidi said the report by doctors will help determine whether the case is dismissed altogether or the trial moves forward.

If the doctors declare that Abdul Rahman is mentally unfit, he would likely be released from custody. But if the doctors say Abdul Rahman is mentally stable, prosecutors could call for the reintroduction of apostasy charges. Apostasy -- abandoning the Islamic faith -- is punishable by death under Afghanistan's interpretation of Shari'a law.

Abdul Wakil Omari, a spokesman for the Afghan Supreme Court, said Abdul Rahman's own testimony suggests he is unfit for trial. Also, Omari said there are gaps in the evidence about whether Abdul Rahman should be protected because of dual citizenship.

"The accused, Abdul Rahman himself, said in court that he was hearing voices and that he was not mentally normal," Omari said. "Also, the issue of his dual citizenship was not clear. Therefore, because of the flaws in the file, we referred it back to the prosecutor's office."

Foreign And Domestic Pressure

The government in Kabul is under enormous international pressure to prevent Abdul Rahman from being executed. But Afghan President Hamid Karzai also faces domestic pressure to have him tried.

More than a thousand protesters took to the streets in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif this morning to protest the court's decision to release Abdul Rahman pending the outcome of the mental tests. They want him to be tried and executed.

Ahmad Shoib is a student in Kabul who thinks Rahman should be executed. "Our Shari'a law says that the person who rejects Islam and joins another religion should be punished with death," Shoib said. "We accepted this law in our constitution so we have to implement Islamic law and constitutional law -- and let him face execution. I suggest other countries should stop interfering with our religion and our laws."

But Hussain Yasa, editor of the Kabul newspaper "Outlook Afghanistan," said Abdul Rahman's execution would be a disaster for Afghanistan's relations with the rest of the world.

"If that man is really executed, it will have a very bad impact on the relations between Afghanistan and [the rest of the] world -- especially the Western world that has been a very important partner in the rebuilding of Afghanistan as well as the fight against terrorism," he said.

Others, like Kabul resident Abdul Hadi, say Abdul Rahman's execution would make Afghanistan guilty of violating the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- which the Afghan government also is required to uphold under the country's constitution.

"It is true that our religion says he should be punished with death," he said. "But we have to respect other religions. It is not fair to execute him. For example, if an American man becomes Muslim, should a judge there execute him? No. They don't. And that's because they respect human rights."

Different Interpretations

But some Islamic scholars in other countries say the Afghan religious scholars are wrong to equate Rahman's religious conversion with "apostasy" under Shari'a law.

Emaduddin Ahmad, a Muslim scholar who directs the U.S.-based Minaret of Freedom Institute, said apostasy as a crime of "treason" that dates from the early days of Islam when some would leave the Islamic faith to follow polytheistic beliefs. Ahmad said Afghans calling for Rahman's execution do not understand the true meaning of apostasy according to the Koran.

"Unfortunately these Fukaha -- or religious scholars -- who were being quoted in the Afghan case are mistaking the simple act of conversion for treason," he said. "They are totally different things."

Abdel Muti Bayoumi, a Muslim scholar who lectures at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, told RFE/RL that an apostate is a person who, unlike Rahman, denies altogether the existence of God, angels, and the prophets. "If he or she leaves society and apostates in the way that his or her apostasy leads to sedition and riot, the apostate in this case would be punished as a traitor to the national security."

At the Vatican on March 26, Pope Benedict spoke about what he called "communities in countries where there is no religious freedom, or where, despite it being set out on paper, there are many restrictions."

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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