PRAGUE, March 30, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Afghan Christian convert who faced possibly execution in Kabul has arrived in Italy and is under the protection of police while his appeal for political asylum is processed, according to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The Italian premier refused to say where Abdul Rahman now is in Italy, or whether his name would be changed for his own protection.
Italian news reports suggest that Abdul Rahman is staying at an undisclosed location near Rome.
The Italian newspaper "La Repubblica" today quotes 41-year-old Abdul Rahman as saying that he suffered in Afghanistan because of his Christian views. But Abdul Rahman told the newspaper that his religious beliefs helped him face the threat of death without fear.
His departure for Italy came swiftly after an Afghan court dropped charges of apostasy against him because of suspected mental illness.
Afghan lawmakers -- including Yunis Qanooni, speaker of the lower chamber of parliament -- on March 29 sent a letter to Afghanistan's interior minister demanding that Abdul Rahman be prevented from leaving Afghanistan.
"The release of Abdul Rahman was contrary to the existing laws of Afghanistan," said Qanooni, emphasizing that the Afghan parliament on March 29 had voted that the apostate should not be allowed to leave the country.
A self-declared spokesman for the Taliban, Mohammad Hanif, on March 30 denounced the Afghan government for allowing Abdul Rahman to leave Afghanistan, saying that the case shows that the Afghan judiciary, parliament, and executive branch of government are under foreign influence.
Hanif, like many conservative Afghans, believes Abdul Rahman should have been put to death.
Under a strict interpretation of the Shari'a law in force in Afghanistan, other converts who remain in Afghanistan could still face the death penalty if discovered.
That possibility prompted the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a resolution that says it is not enough for Abdul Rahman to be freed on grounds that he is mentally unfit to stand trial. The U.S. Congress is now calling for Afghanistan to remove the death penalty for apostasy.
Human Rights Watch, an international nongovernmental group, says thousands of Afghans converted to Christianity abroad after fleeing the fighting that wracked Afghanistan for three decades. The group's Asia director, Brad Adams, told RFE/RL there are probably more than 10,000 Christian converts living in Afghanistan today.
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