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Afghan Faces Death

In Afghanistan, Abdul Rahman is on trial for his life. He was arrested in February and charged with rejecting Islam by converting to Christianity. Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada is hearing the case. "We are not against any particular religion in the world," the judge told the Associated Press news service. "But," he said, "in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law. It is an attack on Islam." If convicted, Mr. Rahman can appeal the verdict to higher courts and, ultimately, to Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Under Afghanistan's constitution, the right to worship for all religious groups is protected. But the Afghan constitution also says, "No law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam." Some Muslims interpret the religious law, or shariah, as making it a criminal offense, punishable by death, for Muslims to reject their faith.

Abdul Wasi, the prosecutor, said Mr. Rahman "would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one." Mr. Wasi said, Mr. Rahman "must get the death penalty."

President George W. Bush commented on the case:

"It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account, because they chose a particular religion over another."

"We expect them [Afghanistan] to honor the universal principles of freedom," Mr. Bush said. "I'm troubled when I hear, deeply troubled when I hear, that a person who converts away from Islam may be held to account. That's not the universal application of the values that I talked about. I look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship."

The governments of many other countries have publicly expressed their concern. U.S. Secretary of State Rice has spoken to Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and to President Karzai, urging Afghanistan to uphold its constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and resolve this case quickly.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.