Afghanistan: Taliban Frees
Children, Arrests Their Fathers;
Muslim youngsters were accused of receiving Christian teaching.
KABUL, Afghanistan August 12, 2001 Los Angeles Times The ruling Taliban movement Saturday freed dozens of children it had accused of receiving Christian teaching and imprisoned their fathers instead, the official media here reported. Meanwhile, a special U.N. envoy began a mission here aimed at pressing the Taliban to release eight foreigners, including two Americans, arrested on charges of propagating Christianity in this devout Muslim nation. Frances Vendrell arrived in Kabul, the capital, for talks with Taliban officials, saying the arrest of the aid workers was "a cause of concern for the international community." "I hope they are expelled soon from Afghanistan if they have violated any Taliban laws," said Vendrell, the U.N. secretary-general's special envoy on Afghanistan. The foreign aid workers--two Americans, four Germans and two Australians--as well as 16 Afghan staff of Shelter Now International were arrested Aug. 5. Shelter Now's offices, run by the German agency Vision for Asia, were shut down. The Taliban displayed seized Bibles and Christian films and literature that had been translated into the local Dari language. The Taliban said the aid workers used the materials to try to persuade Afghan Muslims to convert. It was not known whether the Afghan nationals arrested with the aid workers have also been charged with preaching Christianity. The penalty for Afghans found guilty of converting to, or preaching about, a religion other than Islam is death. For foreigners the penalty is jail or expulsion from the country or both. Shelter Now denies that its staff members were proselytizing and says its other workers in the country have fled to neighboring Pakistan. In the case of the children, the hard-line Islamic rulers' Bakhtar News Agency said the 64 youngsters had been taught by staff at Shelter Now. "The arrests should be a lesson to parents that they should watch their children and know what they are doing," Mohammed Salim Haqqani, deputy minister for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, was quoted as saying. It was not clear how many relatives of the boys were arrested or how long they would remain in custody. In Pakistan, Western diplomats waiting to visit the imprisoned foreign aid workers said the Taliban failed to provide the visas it had promised, but they added that they would continue pressing to visit the detainees.
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