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Commissioners Concerned About Death Penalty Case in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON – The leadership of the U.S. Helsinki Commission expressed grave concern about the situation facing Abdul Rahman, an Afghan citizen who converted to Christianity and is now on trial in Kabul for rejecting Islam.  Afghanistan has status as a Partner for Cooperation in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).     

“I urge the Government of Afghanistan to abide by the international principles enshrined in its constitution and for the prosecutor to drop the charges against Mr. Rahman,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “The Afghan constitution promises to respect the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the freedom to change one’s faith.  If Mr. Rahman is sentenced to death, it would be a grievous violation of their constitution and this fundamental tenet of the Universal Declaration.”

Article 3 of Afghanistan’s constitution declares that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Under Shari’a law, Islamic law that governs both the public and private lives of those living in an Islamic state, apostasy from Islam is punishable by death.  The preamble of the Afghan constitution, however, states the country will “respect the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which in Article 18 guarantees the freedom to change one’s religion. 

“First and foremost, I am very concerned about protecting Mr. Rahman’s life,” said Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  “If the prosecutor presses these charges, this will be the first time an Afghan court has tested their ambiguous 2004 constitution and could set a troubling precedent.  For sure, sentencing Mr. Rahman to death is contrary to human rights and religious freedoms in the 21st century.” 

While Mr. Rahman converted over 14 years ago, his family reportedly turned him into the authorities after he tried to gain custody of his two daughters. 

The Primary Court expects to render a decision in two months.  Both the prosecutor and the trial judge have reportedly stated Mr. Rahman will be spared if he converts back to Islam.  If Mr. Rahman refuses and the court finds in favor of the death penalty, Mr. Rahman can appeal the ruling to the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court.  In addition, President Hamid Karzai must consent to the application of the death penalty before any execution.

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