Afghanistan Executions Raise New Fears about Arrested Aid Workers

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

By Stefan J. Bos International Correspondent

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- Four executions on Wednesday in Afghanistan have speed up diplomatic efforts to free 24 aid workers, including eight foreigners, who were arrested by the country's Islamic "Taliban" rulers, on charges of spreading Christianity.

Reports from the region said that four men convicted of setting off bombs in the Afghanistan capital Kabul, were publicly hanged from steel cranes next to the city's Presidential palace. Nine others were sentenced to life after they all pleaded guilty, The Taliban radio Voice of Shariat, reported.

The killings came as representatives from the United States embassy in neighboring Pakistan, and the German and Australian embassies hoped to travel to Kabul Thursday to press for the release of the workers from the German-based Shelter Now International organization, which provides aid to Afghan refugees.

The Taliban has said the aid workers were arrested after evidence was gathered linking them to "insulting Islam and spreading Christianity," charges that could carry the death penalty under the regime's strict interpretation of Islamic law.

On Sunday Afghanistan's religious police confiscated a Bible along with Christian during a raid on an office of Shelter Now International. They also captured computer discs containing the story of the Life of Christ in the Dari language and other audio-visual material as part of what authorities described as "evidence collected from the agency workers."

However Shelter Now's director Esteban Witzmann told reporters that any Christian material was only for personal use. Salim Haqqani, a senior Taliban official, said that the investigation continues and that the prisoners, including two Americans, two Australians and four Germans were "in good health".

But Haqqani warned humanitarian organizations that the arrests must show them that it is necessary to give the Islamic religion "dignity and not show disrespect by teaching against it." Analysts say that the Taliban militia, which controls 95% of Afghanistan, follows a purist form of Islam and takes a hard line towards minority religions.

The regime provoked a storm of international protests earlier this year for destroying two ancient Buddhist monuments, which it said were idolatrous, and for reportedly suggesting that members of Afghanistan's tiny Hindu community wear yellow stars for identification.

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