Sunday, March 26, 2006

Statement from The Prime Minister's Office

The following was received late this afternoon:

Statement by the Prime Minister on the Raham case and freedom of religion in Afghanistan March 22, 2006Ottawa, Ontario

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement after the conclusion of his telephone call to Afghanistan President Karzai.

“I called President Karzai today to express my deep concerns regarding the Raham case and the issue of freedom of religion in Afghanistan.

President Karzai listened to my concerns and we had a productive and informative exchange of views.

Upon the conclusion of the call, he assured me that respect for human and religious rights will be fully upheld in this case.”

From the statement above, the Prime Minister's office is obviously receiving heat from Canadians over the Abdul Rahman case (too bad that his press office cannot spell his name correctly). I am encouraged by the fact that he contacted President Karzai directly and without delay. This is positive sign. We now wait to see what, if any impact, it will have. In all likelihood, a convenient excuse will be made by the chief prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, to drop the charges, while saving face at the same time. Already we are seeing evidence of this as prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari told AP this morning that questions have been raised about Rahman's mental fitness. "We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person," he told The Associated Press.

Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination. "Doctors must examine him," he said. "If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped."

Hopefully, if this is the scenario that plays out, Rahman will be released and not detained for "treatment" of his "mental illness."

But even if he is released, the Canadian government (and other governments) cannot act as if this is a happy ending to a potentially explosive issue. Yes, Rahman's life will have been spared, but nothing will have been solved in regards to the endemic problem plaguing the Afghan legal and constitutional system. What happens the next time that a convert faces execution if no one is there is publicize it? I rather suspect that Afghan prosecutors are going to be far more discrete next time. As I have argued in my earlier weblogs, this is not a death sentence issue; it is a human rights one. The very fact that Abdul Rahman's conversion to Christianity is considered a crime for which he faces trial demonstrates Afghanistan's reluctance to truly respect human and religious rights. And until the religious right of all Afghans to choose and change their religion (or have none at all) is recognized, Abdul Rahman will only be the first of many Afghans charged for converting from Islam; though he may be one of the last one that we will ever hear of.

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