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Foreign aid workers to be put on trial in Afghanistan: Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Two American women and six other foreigners jailed in Afghanistan on charges of preaching Christianity will be put on trial, the radical Islamic Taliban militia said Wednesday.

The parents of Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer said their daughters were healthy and in ”good spirits.” They met with them on Monday.

”We are now working with the ministry of foreign affairs to get back in to see our daughters on a more frequent basis and everything is going very well,” said Heather’s father, John Mercer. ”They have been very gracious hosts. They have treated us very warmly. We are just working with them closely to hopefully resolve this issue.”



The foreigners – two American women, four Germans and two Australians – have been held for more than three weeks. They are members of a German-based Christian organization, Shelter Now International, and were arrested along with 16 Afghan employees. The penalty for an Afghan who converts to Christianity is death.

According to Taliban law, foreigners convicted of preaching Christianity in deeply Muslim Afghanistan face jail time and expulsion, while the penalty for an Afghan who converts to Christianity is death.



However, the final say on any punishment lies with the Taliban’s reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. The Taliban, who control about 95 percent of Afghanistan, are constantly revising their interpretation of how to carry out punishments under Islamic law.

”After the investigation is completed, the case will go to court and the court will decide according to Shariat (Islamic law),” Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told the Taliban’s Bakhtar News Agency. There was no indication of when the investigation would be complete.

The announcement followed the weekly council of ministers meeting in the war-ruined capital Kabul, where the parents of two jailed American women waited for a second visit with their daughters.

They are being held in a reform school in central Kabul that holds delinquent children, many of them arrested for begging or scavenging. With nighttime temperatures beginning to drop, International Red Cross officials Wednesday delivered them stack of woolen blankets.

Three Western diplomats also in Kabul said they had not received official notification of the decision to take the case to court, but Alastar Adams, the Australian consular official, said it would be a ”logical conclusion.”

”We haven’t received an official notification, but it sounds like it is coming to its logical conclusion,” said Adams.

”We would want just to be there as observers” if it does go to trial, he said. ”That is a normal expectation anywhere in the world.”

Curry and Mercer are believed to be single and in their 20s. The parents have been reluctant to give personal information. Curry’s mother is Nancy Ellen Cassell, a teacher from Thompson’s Station, Tenn. Mercer’s father is John Mercer, a native of Washington, D.C. His current hometown was not known. It was not known if their daughters were from those places as well.

”We have been treated very kindly and nicely and we appreciate what they have done so far,” said Cassell. ”We are here as parents to see our children.”

Curry’s father, Dr. Tilden Curry, who is dean of the School of Business at Tennessee State University in Nashville, said Wednesday he believed she was in good spirits.

”We’re just following the news as close as we can,” he said. ”We think she’s being treated reasonably well. We understand her spirits are good. We hope that she can be home soon.”

The other detained international aid workers have been identified by the Taliban as Germans, Margrit Stebnar, George Taubmann, Kati Jelinek and Silke Duerrkopf; and Australians, Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas.

Shelter Now International is a German-based Christian organization, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 1993, prior to the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 1996. They operate in several provinces, but the Taliban have shut down all their projects since the arrests in Kabul.

The organization was forced to close in 1990 because of similar accusations of propagating Christianity, but this time in Afghan refugee camps in neighboring Pakistan where they ran a program for war widows.

In raids of Shelter Now International offices in Kabul earlier this month the Taliban say they found compact discs promoting Christianity in the local languages, as well as boxes of Bibles and other Christian material translated into Afghanistan’s local languages.


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