Kabul Court To Resume Christians' Trial Saturday

Friday, October 3, 2003

Pakistani Clerics, Jesse Jackson Offer to Mediate with Taliban
by Barbara G. Baker
ISTANBUL, September 27 (Compass) -- The Taliban Supreme Court announced it will resume trial proceedings on Saturday against eight Western aid workers who have been jailed in the Afghan capital for the past two months on charges of preaching Christianity.

According to Australian diplomats based in Islamabad, judicial hearings against the two Australians, two Americans and four Germans "would definitely proceed" on September 29 in Kabul.

The diplomats, who were not identified in an announcement released today by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra, said their source was Taliban Foreign Ministry official Abdur Afghani.

The foreign Christians' trial before Afghan Muslim clerics was suspended two weeks ago, after Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden was accused of masterminding the devastating September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

U.S. President George W. Bush has threatened military reprisals if the Taliban do not hand over Bin Laden and his associates, harbored by the Kabul regime since 1996. In a September 20 address before a joint session of Congress, Bush also demanded the release of the foreign aid workers, saying they were "unjustly imprisoned."

Together with 16 Afghan employees, eight foreign staff of Shelter Now were arrested the first weekend in August, accused of spreading Christianity in Afghanistan under the pretext of doing humanitarian work. Although the foreign prisoners were allowed visitors after three weeks, the Taliban have refused access to the Afghan staff, saying they will be tried later, separately.

Last seen by a visiting Pakistani delegation on September 18, the eight foreign Christians -- two men and six women -- were reportedly visited two days ago by Taliban officials. Chief Justice Noor Mohammed Saqib told Reuters on September 25 that all eight of the foreign prisoners were well and "awaiting the arrival of their lawyer from Pakistan." The prisoners are George Taubmann, Katrin Jelinek, Margrit Stebner and Silke Durrkopf, who are all German; Australians Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas; and Americans Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer.

Local officials confirmed on September 21 that the eight had been moved "for security reasons" from the Kabul reformatory where they were incarcerated for the first six weeks. Officials declined to say exactly when the prisoners were transferred to "a jail operated by the Taliban intelligence service."