KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – A court yesterday dismissed the case against an Afghan man facing possible execution for converting from Islam to Christianity, officials said, paving the way for his release.
The move eased pressure from the West but raised the dilemma of protecting Abdul Rahman after his release as Islamic clerics have called for him to be killed.
One official said freedom might come as soon as today for Rahman, who became a Christian in the 1990s while working for an aid group in neighboring Pakistan.
Muslim extremists, who have demanded death for Rahman as an apostate for rejecting Islam, warned the decision would touch off protests across this religiously conservative country. Some clerics previously vowed to incite Afghans to kill Rahman if he was let go.
Rahman was moved to Kabul’s notorious high-security Policharki prison Friday after inmates at a jail in central Kabul threatened him, Policharki’s warden, Gen. Shahmir Amirpur, said.
Authorities have barred journalists from seeing Rahman. But yesterday, officials gave AP an exclusive tour of Policharki, which houses some 2,000 inmates, including about 350 Taliban and al-Qaida militants.
Amirpur said Rahman had been asking guards for a Bible but they had none to give him.
“He looks very calm. But he keeps saying he is hearing voices,” Amirpur said.
Rahman was in solitary confinement in a tiny concrete cell next to a senior prison guard’s office. AP was shown the cell door, but barred from speaking with or otherwise communicating with him.
A senior guard said inmates and many guards had not been told of Rahman’s identity because of fears they might attack him.
But Amirpur vouched for the prisoner’s safety. “We are watching him constantly. This is a very sensitive case so he needs high security.”
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.
A Supreme Court spokesman, Abdul Wakil Omeri, said the case had been dismissed because of “problems with the prosecutors’ evidence.” He said several of Rahman’s relatives testified he is mentally unstable and prosecutors have to “decide if he is mentally fit to stand trial.”
Another Afghan official closely involved with the case told The Associated Press that the court ruled there was insufficient evidence and returned the case to prosecutors for further investigation. But he said Rahman would be released in the meantime.