Afghanistan - Man Faces Death For Converting to ChristianityAbout 700 Muslim clerics and others chanted "Death to Bush" and other anti-Western slogans in Mazar-e-Sharif on Monday, officials told The Associated Press.
Clerics have called for protests across Afghanistan against both the government and the West, which had pressured President Hamid Karzai's administration to drop the case against Abdul Rahman.
On Sunday March 26, 2006, a Western diplomat and Afghan officials close to Karzai said that Rahman would be released soon.
Other sources in the Afghan judiciary said the case against Rahman had been thrown out on technical grounds and sent back to prosecutors to gather more evidence.
Those same sources said Rahman may not be released.
Karzai has been under growing international pressure to find a way to free Rahman without angering Muslim clerics who have called for him to be killed.
The Afghan Cabinet discussed the case Saturday, but results of that meeting were unknown. A government source familiar with his case said on Friday he would be released in the coming days.
On Sunday rumors spread that an Afghan court dismissed the case against Rahman because of a lack of evidence. The case had been returned to prosecutors for more investigation and that Rahman would be released in the meantime.
"The court dismissed today the case against Abdul Rahman for a lack of information and a lot of legal gaps in the case," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. AP said the official has been closely involved with the matter.
"The decision about his release will be taken possibly tomorrow," AP quoted the official as saying. "They don't have to keep him in jail while the attorney general is looking into the case."
Abdul Wakil Omeri, a spokesman for the Supreme Court, confirmed to AP that the case had been dismissed because of "problems with the prosecutors' evidence."
He said several family members of Rahman have testified that he has mental problems.
"It is the job of the attorney general's office to decide if he is mentally fit to stand trial," he told AP.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said questions were now being raised as to whether Rahman would stay in Afghanistan or go into foreign exile, AP reported.
The judge presiding over Rahman's case told Reuters the case had flaws and had been referred back to prosecutors. But he declined to elaborate on the flaws or say if the review would delay the trial, which had been due to begin in coming days.
"The case, because of some technical as well as legal flaws and shortcomings, has been referred back to the prosecutor's office," the judge, Ansarullah Mawlavizada, told Reuters.
Earlier Sunday, AP quoted prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari as saying that doctors would examine Rahman on Monday to determine whether he was mentally fit to stand trial.
"It has been said that he has mental problems," the prosecutor said. "Doctors will examine him tomorrow and will then report to us."
According to an interview published Sunday in an Italian newspaper, Rahman said he is fully aware of his choice and is ready to die for it.
"I am serene. I have full awareness of what I have chosen. If I must die, I will die," AP quoted Rahman as telling the Rome daily La Repubblica.
"Somebody, a long time ago, did it for all of us," he added in a clear reference to Jesus.
The newspaper did not interview Rahman directly but sent him questions through a human rights worker who visited him at a Kabul detention facility. Authorities have barred journalists from seeing Rahman.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she could not confirm that an Afghan court had dismissed the case and stressed the U.S. needs to respect the sovereignty of Afghanistan, which she called a "young democracy."
"Unlike the Taliban, it actually has a constitution to which one can appeal," she told CNN's "Late Edition." "We as Americans know in democracy, as it evolves, there are difficult issues about state and church -- or, in this case, state and mosque.
"We expect that, given our own history, that we would know Afghans have to go through this evolution."
Asked if U.S. Christian missionaries should be encouraged to go to Afghanistan, Rice told NBC: "I think that Afghans are pleased to get the help that they can get" but added "we need to be respectful of Afghan sovereignty."
Rahman, 41, faces trial on charges of converting to Christianity -- a death-penalty offense under Afghanistan's constitution, which is based on Islamic law.
Rahman reportedly converted 16 years ago while he was a medical aid worker for an international nongovernmental organization (NGO).
The case reflects a gulf between Afghanistan's conservative and clerical judiciary and the fledgling Western-backed democracy led by Karzai.
"We've been very clear with the Afghan government that it has to understand the vital importance of religious freedom to democracy," Rice said.
U.S. troops overthrew Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, which had harbored al Qaeda, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
U.S. troops are still battling Taliban and al Qaeda remnants in parts of the country.
Also on Sunday, AP quoted officials as saying Rahman had been moved to a notorious maximum-security prison outside Kabul that is also home to hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
Rahman was moved to Policharki Prison last week after detainees threatened his life at an overcrowded police holding facility in central Kabul, a court official said on condition of anonymity, AP reported.
Gen. Shahmir Amirpur, who is in charge of Policharki, confirmed the move and said Rahman had been begging his guards to give him a Bible, according to AP.