KABUL, Afghanistan, AP – An Afghan man who had faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity has been released from prison after the case was dropped, the justice minister said Tuesday.
The announcement came after the United Nations said Abdul Rahman has appealed for asylum outside Afghanistan and that the world body was working to find a country willing to take him.
Justice Minister Mohammed Sarwar Danish told The Associated Press that the 41-year-old was released from the high-security Policharki prison on the outskirts of Kabul late Monday.
“We released him last night because the prosecutors told us to,” he said. “His family was there when he was freed, but I don’t know where he was taken.”
Deputy Attorney General Mohammed Eshak Aloko told the AP that prosecutors had issued a letter calling for Rahman’s release because “he was mentally unfit to stand trial.” He also said he did not know where Rahman was staying but that he may be sent overseas for medical treatment.
Hours earlier, hundreds of clerics, students and others chanting “Death to Christians!” marched through the northern Afghan Mazar-i-Sharif to protest the court’s decision Sunday to dismiss the case.
“Abdul Rahman must be killed. Islam demands it,” said senior Cleric Faiez Mohammed, from the nearby northern city of Kunduz. “The Christian foreigners occupying Afghanistan are attacking our religion.”
Several Muslim clerics have threatened to incite Afghans to kill Rahman if he is freed, saying that he is clearly guilty of apostasy and deserves to die.
Rahman was arrested last month after police discovered him with a Bible. He was put on trial last week for converting 16 years ago while he was a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan. He had faced the death penalty under Afghanistan’s Islamic laws.
The case set off an outcry in the United States and other nations that helped oust the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001 and provide aid and military support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. President Bush and others insisted Afghanistan protect personal beliefs.
U.N. spokesman Adrian Edwards said Rahman has asked for asylum “outside Afghanistan.”
“We expect this will be provided by one of the countries interested in a peaceful solution to this case,” he said.
No country has yet offered asylum to Rahman, said an official familiar with the case who declined to be named because of its sensitivity.
Asked whether the U.S. government was doing anything to secure Rahman’s safety after he is released, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington that where he goes after he is freed “is going to be up to Mr. Rahman.”
He urged Afghans not to resort to violence even if they are unhappy with the resolution of the case.
The international outrage over Rahman’s case put Karzai in a difficult position because he also risked offending religious sensibilities in Afghanistan, where senior Muslim clerics have been united in calling for Raham to be executed.