Kabul, Afghanistan - An Afghan man being prosecuted for converting from Islam to Christianity has reportedly received assurances from President Hamid Karzi that he will not face the death penalty for apostasy.
41-year-old Abdul Rahman was arrested in February after his family accused him of becoming a Christian.
During his hearing, Rahman confessed that he converted to Christianity from Islam 16 years ago while working as a medical aid worker for a Christian group assisting Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
The judge declared such coversions to be "an attack on Islam."
Prosecuter Abdul Wasi offered to drop the charges if Rahman converted back to Islam. "He would have been forgiven if he changed back," Wasi said. "But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one. We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty."
The Afghan president is in a difficult situation. Mr. Karzi, president of this country where 99 percent are Muslims, the remainder mainly Hindu, and the number of Christians is estimated to be only in the dozens, is facing growing pressure from his western allies to prevent Rahman's execution. However, most religious and political leaders in Afghanistan want the government to ensure the enforcement of Islamic Shari'a law.
Christian believers are very limited in their ability to worship openly in Afghanistan. An old house in a bombed-out suburb of Kabul is used as a house of worship for non-Afghan Christians. The only other known churches are found in foreign embassies or on coalition bases, none of which are attended by Afghans. There are no known Afghan churches, and very few admit their faith for fear of retribution.