Aid workers on trial "very scared"

U N I T E D  N A T I O N S
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)

ISLAMABAD, 17 October (IRIN) - The lawyer representing the eight foreign aid
workers on trial in Kabul for preaching Christianity has said they are in
"good health", but "very scared", after visiting them to collect their reply
to the Taliban to the charges they face. "It is difficult for them to be
there alone, and it was difficult for us to leave them there," the lawyer,
Atif Ali Khan, told IRIN on Wednesday. He made the trip at a time when heavy
US-led air strikes hit Kabul.

Khan submitted the reply to the charges against the two Americans, two
Australians and four Germans on Saturday, and said he was hoping to return
to Afghanistan on Sunday 21 October in the hope of a quick response or
judgement to be handed down by the Supreme Court. The 26 year-old Pakistani
national will travel by road through Pakistan's North West Frontier Province
into eastern Afghanistan, before proceeding to the capital.

He said he had had very little communication with the Taliban since
returning from Afghanistan at the weekend. "We are trying to get in touch
with the authorities, but the communications system has been bombed out," he
said. On the question of how long it would take before a reply was likely to
be forthcoming from the Taliban, Khan said there was no way of telling, but
explained that once the judgement was issued it would be sent to the
Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, for final approval.

The eight, who work for the German-based Shelter Now International aid
agency, were detained in early August together with 16 Afghan nationals for
allegedly working to convert Afghan Muslims to Christianity. The Taliban's
Deputy Minister for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,
Mohammad Salim Haqqani, had shown reporters computer disks containing the
story of the life of Christ in the local Dari language, a copy of the Bible
in English and Dari, a book on Christianity, and the written confession of
one of the accused, according to newspaper reports.

The trial took place behind closed doors, and the aid workers appeared in
court on 8 September. Diplomats were able to meet them, but were forced to
leave following the terrorist attacks on the US on 11 September. Under the
strict Islamic Shari'ah law applied in Afghanistan, preaching Christianity
is punishable by death.

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