Thursday, March 23, 2006

Afghan Charge Against Muslim Convert Draws U.S. Criticism

The possibility that a Muslim convert to Christianity in Afghanistan might be sentenced to death by Afghan courts has led to widespread protests in the West and a defensive reaction from Afghan officials. In a speech yesterday in Wheeling, West Virginia, (full text) President George W. Bush said of Afghanistan:

We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom. I'm troubled when I hear -- deeply troubled when I hear the fact that a person who has converted away from Islam may be held to account. That's not the universal application of the values that I talked about. Look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship.

Later, in answer to a question, the President said: "It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another.... [W]e can solve this problem by working closely with the government that we've got contacts with -- and will. We'll deal with this issue diplomatically and remind people that there is something as universal as being able to choose religion."

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called President Karzai yesterday to express deep concern, according to the Ottawa Star.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also issued an unusually strong statement on the matter:

Religious decisions should be matters of personal choice, not a cause for state intervention. Faith imposed by force is not true belief, but coercion. Islam has no need to compel belief in its divine truth.... We urge the government of Afghanistan to order the immediate release of Mr. Abdul Rahman.
Afghanistan responded by saying that the matter would be handled by its courts. Reuters yesterday reported that Mahaiuddin Baluch, a religious affairs advisor to President Hamid Karzai, said: "We in Afghanistan have the prosecutor who observes the law and the court that executes it. Whatever the court orders will be executed as the court is independent."

ISN Security Watch today has an excellent analysis of the constitutional issues and political pressures inside Afghanistan. (See prior related postings, 1, 2.)