Afghan MPs say asylum-seeking Christian must not escape


KABUL (AFP) – Afghan parliament said that a Christian who avoided the death penalty for converting from Islam should not be allowed to escape the country, as the man looked to Europe for asylum.

A German state leader reportedly said that 41-year-old Abdul Rahman would be welcome to live there, while Italy was due to decide whether to make a similar offer. But Afghan lawmakers said after a heated two-hour debate in parliament that the Supreme Court`s weekend decision to release Rahman from trial for apostasy was "contrary to the laws in place in Afghanistan." "To prevent the escape of Rahman from Afghanistan, his leaving Afghanistan must be prohibited," said a summary of the debate read out by speaker Yunus Qanooni and approved by MPs. It was unclear if the parliament`s decision amounted to an order to bar Rahman from leaving Afghanistan if he were offered asylum abroad. Many of the legislators said Rahman`s release violated Islamic Sharia law and the constitution and would affect Afghanistan`s security and trust in the government and judiciary. A prominent MP and a well-known commander in the anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, charged that the case was a plot to create "a rift between the West and Afghanistan." The case has provoked an international outcry, with Kabul`s Western allies -- on whom it depends to rebuild after years of war -- putting unprecedented pressure on the new democratic government to honor freedom of religion. The convert was freed in secret on Monday night but has been kept under tight security at an undisclosed location after protests in Afghanistan called for him to be put to death in line with Islamic Sharia law. The premier of Germany`s Saarland state, Peter Mueller, told the German daily Die Welt that Rahman would be "warmly welcome". Rahman, who converted in Pakistan about 16 years ago, lived in Germany for some time before returning to Afghanistan in around three years ago. Italy has also expressed willingness to take in Rahman and deputy prime minister and foreign minister Gianfranco Fini was to ask the cabinet later Wednesday to formally offer him asylum. Rahman was arrested around a fortnight ago under Islamic Sharia law, which says he should be sentenced to death unless he reverts to Islam. The Supreme Court put the case on hold Sunday amid doubts he was fit to stand trial after testimony from his relatives that he was mentally unstable. He also admitted to hearing voices, court officials said. His case is being seen as a test of how far the conservative country has moved on from the rule of the hardline Islamist Taliban, who were removed in a US-led operation after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The United States, which is Afghanistan main donor and has led the protests in the Rahman case, on Tuesday hailed the decision to free him. "The president has made it clear that we expect people`s religious freedoms to be protected. And so we`ll continue to make that clear to the government of Afghanistan as they move forward," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. Around 200 people demonstrated against the court`s decision in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif Monday, demanding Rahman`s execution. No further demonstrations were reported but Afghans continued to demand that he be put to death. "We are an Islamic country and should implement the rule of the Koran," said Shah Baran, a tribal elder in the eastern province of Zabul. "He must be killed

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