Aid workers face trial for preaching Christianity

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The Independent Online

Afghanistan's Taliban militia said on Wednesday it would put on trial eight foreign aid workers arrested on charges of preaching Christianity.

The two Americans, four Germans and two Australians have been held in Kabul for more than three weeks. They are members of the German-based Christian organisation Shelter Now International, and were arrested with 16 Afghan staff members.

Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, Afghanistan's Foreign Minister, said: "After an investigation is completed, the case will go to court and the court will decide according to Sharia [Islamic law]". There was no indication of when the investigation would be completed.

Under Taliban law, the penalty for foreigners caught preaching Christianity is between three and 10 days in jail and expulsion from the country. The penalty for an Afghan who converts to Christianity is death. Mr Muttawakil said the court ruling would be sent to the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who had the final say.

Three diplomats from the United States, Germany and Australia who have travelled to Afghanistan say they have not been officially notified of the decision to hold a trial. "They have engaged us with talks," Helmut Landes, consular officer at the German embassy in Pakistan, said in Kabul. "Everything has been arranged very quickly. We saw the detainees as soon as we arrived. This is all very positive."

The International Red Cross delivered blankets on Wednesday to the detained aid workers at the Reform School in Kabul, where they are being held. Shelter Now International has been operating in Afghanistan since 1993, before the Taliban's takeover in 1996. They operate in several provinces, but the Taliban has shut down all their projects since the arrests.