Abdul Rahman May be Released Soon

It appears that Abdul Rahman, the Afghan sentenced to die for the act of converting to Christianity, may be spared owing to international pressure.

AP reports,

Photo: Abdul Rahman, an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity, is interviewed during a hearing in Kabul on March 16, 2006 in this image made available from tv footage on Monday March 20, 2006. Rahman is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death after being charged with converting from Islam to Christianity, a crime under this country's Islamic laws. (AP Photo/APTN/Ariana Television) The chief judge trying an Afghan man who faces a possible death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity defended the court’s autonomy Friday amid reports the man could be freed.

International pressure against the case has been building, and the Afghan government may be rethinking the charges against Abdul Rahman. A government official and MSNBC said Friday that Rahman may be freed within the next few days. “He could be released soon,” an Afghan government official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the case to the media. MSNBC, citing an Afghan diplomatic official it did not identify, said Rahman, 41, could be released Monday. The British Broadcasting Corp. said government officials were meeting Saturday to discuss the case.

CNN adds,

Word of Abdul Rahman’s release comes after days of international pressure and the day before the Afghan Cabinet was scheduled to discuss the case of the 41-year-old father of two. On Thursday, top Afghan clerics urged Muslims to kill Rahman if the government freed him.

Speaking Friday to reporters in Mexico, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. government is working with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government to free Rahman. Karzai’s government came to power after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the fundamentalist Taliban, an oppressive regime notorious for publicly executing people like Rahman.

The U.S. government has stressed to Karzai the importance of freedom of religion in a democracy, Rice said, adding that Afghanistan now has a constitution that embraces democracy rather than the autocratic mandates of the Taliban. “We really do believe the case of Mr. Rahman needs to be resolved. That is what we are focusing on right now.” Rice said. “Afghanistan is in its evolutionary state as a democratic state, and we’ll have to work to resolve these contradictions as they move forward.”

Rahman is charged with rejecting Islam by converting to Christianity, an offense that can be punishable by death under the Afghan constitution, which is based in sharia, or Islamic law. Rahman reportedly converted 16 years ago while he was a medical aid worker for an international nongovernmental organization. But the case has illustrated a split in Afghanistan over the interpretation of the constitution, which calls for religious freedom while stating that Muslims who reject Islam can be executed.

Even moderate Muslims are incensed by Rahman’s conversion, as top clerics on Thursday called for his execution. “Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die,” cleric Abdul Raoulf told The Associated Press. Raoulf has long been considered a moderate and was often at odds with the Taliban, which jailed him three times before the hard-line group’s ouster in 2001.

One hopes Rahman is indeed released and, presumably, given protective custody elsewhere. It is sad, but not particularly surprising to me, that he was in this predicament to begin with. While this level of religious intolerance may be unfathomable to modern Westerners, it is the norm in much of the world.

Note: My original post was inadvertantly overwritten when I was attempting to post larger excerpts at OTB News. This is a reconstruction.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mark says:

    While it is good he is going to be released, clearly he cannot be considered safe unless he goes into hiding or something – like the Mohammed cartoonists have…

  2. legion says:

    Holy crap! Maybe the US _does_ still have some international diplomatic influence after all…

  3. Ralph says:

    Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die.

    Heaven help me I cannot get my mind around that one. How’s about we let the Almighty take care of it? In spite of His being, you know, all humiliated and such, somehow I think He’ll pull through. Goodness knows He’s got years of experience.

  4. McGehee says:

    I have to admit, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine an omnipotent being having the capacity for humiliation. If anybody’s self-esteem is secure, I would think it would be God’s.