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Rice talks to Karzai on Afghan convert's case

The US Secretary of State called on Karzai to raise concerns about an Afghan is facing death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2006 12:13 IST

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to raise concerns about an Afghan facing death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity.

Rice telephoned Karzai on the issue and also had a 15-minute meeting with visiting Afghan Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah on Thursday in a bid to resolve the case of the Afghan convert, Abdul Rahman, according to State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack.

Talking to newspersons at the State Department, McCormack said Rice spoke about the issue in the strongest possible terms and urged the Karzai government to seek a favourable resolution to the case at the earliest possible moment.

She underlined the fact that the United States forthrightly stands for principles of freedom of worship, freedom of expression and that these are bedrock principles of democracy around the world, he added.

The United States had raised the issue of the Christian convert, Abdul Rahman, through the US embassy in Kabul some days ago.

But it had elevated the matter to the senior level amid an outcry over the case in the US, and apparent inaction by Afghan authorities.

Rahman, 41, has been accused of changing his religion, a capital offence in Islam, and jailed under Afghanistan's Islamic legal code even though the country's new constitution nominally guarantees freedom of religion.

He said he converted to Christianity several years ago while working for a Christian aid group in Pakistan.

His conversion became a legal issue when he went to court seeking custody of his two children, according to media reports here.

"In our view it is important to see that this issue is resolved, and we do seek a favourable resolution to it at the earliest possible moment, that there be a reaffirmation of those principles which we do see in the Afghan constitution and that we share and that are enshrined in documents around the world.

These are universal values, as the US President talked about on Thursday, and they're fundamental values to any democracy and vitally important for emerging democracies as they struggle with these kinds of issues to make a strong stand for," McCormack said.

On being asked why the US officials had not called for forthright withdrawal of the case against Rahman, he said, "This is clearly an Afghan decision to take. They are a sovereign government. It's a sovereign country. But as I pointed out, we believe that it is important that as the issue is resolved, that those fundamental principles of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, are affirmed in the resolution of this case."

Meanwhile, the White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a statement yesterday, "This case clearly violates the universal freedoms that democracies around the world hold dear, and we are watching it very closely. We are in very close contact with the Government of Afghanistan."

Commenting on the situation, the press secretary said, "Great sacrifices have been made by the US and others to provide freedom to about 25 million people in Afghanistan and we have reminded the Afghan government of that.

First Published: Mar 24, 2006 11:25 IST