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Religious freedom Afghan-style is no freedom

The trial of a Christian convert undermines the US democracy agenda.

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Efforts by the US soldiers deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom to help the Afghan people throw off the oppressive Taliban government appear not to be complete. A 41-year-old Afghan man, Abdul Rahman, is being tried for converting to Christianity 16 years ago. If found guilty by the Afghan court he faces the death penalty. The judge in the case, Ansarullah Mawlazezadah, has commented to ABC News, "We will ask [Rahman] if he has changed his mind about being a Christian. If he has, we will forgive him, because Islam is a religion of tolerance."

Is this what Americans have fought for in the frigid mountains of Tora Bora? Americans of all religions strongly supported Operation Enduring Freedom. The Taliban regime was an Islamic fundamentalist government that harbored Al Qaeda, murdered women, oppressed its people, and blew up historic statues of Buddha. The entire world joined in condemning the Taliban. Even Europe joined us in fighting against these sponsors of terror.

But we will have gained nothing if we allow another Islamic fundamentalist regime to arise in Kabul. This is not a minor matter. If the government of Hamid Kharzai - which is receiving billions in US aid - cannot stop this travesty of justice, it will be too weak and compromised to resist the terrorists.

Our State Department is presently wringing its hands over the fate of Abdul Rahman. "It's important ... that the Afghan authorities conduct this trial and proceedings that lead up to it in as transparent a manner as possible," said spokesman Sean McCormack. "Freedom of worship is an important element of any democracy and these are issues as Afghan democracy matures that they are going to have to deal with increasingly."

Where is the outrage? It's not just an "immature" democracy that is on exhibit in Afghanistan. The new Afghan Constitution incorporates the UN's Universal Declaration on Human Rights. That declaration's Article 18 specifically recognizes the right of all people to change their religion. Even to prepare a trial for a person who has committed this "crime" is a gross violation of that declaration, and of the new Afghan Constitution as well.

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