Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has contacted Afghan President Hamid Karzai by telephone and spoken in person with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah to discuss legal proceedings against an Afghan citizen who converted to Christianity 16 years ago.... and now it looks like Abdul Rahman will be released:
"She raised it in the strongest possible terms and she urged President Karzai's government to seek a favorable resolution to this case at the earliest possible moment. She underlined the fact that the United States stands forthrightly for principles of freedom of worship, freedom of expression and that these are bedrock principles of democracy around the world," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
An Afghan man possibly facing execution for converting from Islam to Christianity is expected "to be released in the coming days," a source with detailed knowledge of the case said Friday.Readers of TitusOneNine will be relieved. I'm sure they'll also be relieved when Secretary Rice makes a similar call to Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, perhaps when he visits (can anyone confirm this rumor that Obasanjo is coming to the US shortly?).
Word of Abdul Rahman's release comes after days of international pressure and the day before the Afghan Cabinet was scheduled to discuss the case of the 41-year-old father of two. On Thursday, top Afghan clerics urged Muslims to kill Rahman if the government freed him.
The U.S. government has stressed to Karzai the importance of freedom of religion in a democracy, Rice said, adding that Afghanistan now has a constitution that embraces democracy rather than the autocratic mandates of the Taliban.
A conversation between Bush and Obasanjo that I think is particularly relevant here is the one they had during Bush's visit to Abuja, Nigeria, on July 12, 2003. Here's Bush:
... Mr. President, I appreciate your honesty and openness and forthrightness when it comes to battling the pandemic of AIDS. You're truly an international leader on this issue. And the United States of America, when Congress acts, will stand side-by-side with leaders such as yourself to fight the pandemic of AIDS to save lives.It's that same commitment to AIDS prevention that Rice can invoke when she asks him why his government is worrying about further denying civil rights (and I'm talking about speech, press, and assembly) to an already repressed and closeted minority, when over 3 million of his citizens suffer from HIV/AIDS. Human Rights Watch (and those 15 other organizations) are concerned that:
While the prevailing pattern of HIV transmission in Nigeria, as elsewhere in the continent, is overwhelmingly heterosexual, the government will only damage its own prevention efforts by driving populations already suffering stigma for their sexual conduct still further underground—not only making it more difficult for outreach and education efforts to reach them, but potentially criminalizing civil society groups engaged in that vital work. Nigeria’s AIDS prevention programs have already been distinguished by their neglect of the particular risks facing men who have sex with men (MSM). This bill would put major barriers in the path of effective prevention efforts.I would add that if HIV/AIDS is perceived as a gay disease in Nigeria (which it is -- broadly), outside organizations that fight HIV/AIDS could be specifically targeted as "involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private," and thus subject to 5 years' imprisonment.
Too bad Abdul Rahman isn't also a gay Anglican Nigerian.