Despite an international outcry over the prospect of “liberated” Afghanistan executing a former Muslim for converting to Christianity, a judge dealing with the case today said his nation’s judiciary will ignore outside pressure and act “independently.”

Yesterday, hopes were rising that 42-year-old Abdul Rahman would be spared, amid widespread reports Afghanistan’s government was attempting to find a face-saving way to free the man facing a death penalty.

Afghan prosecutors reportedly claimed Rahman – facing death for converting 16 years ago from Islam to Christianity – might be “mad,” and therefore not prosecutable.

Rahman is charged with rejecting Islam, a crime under Afghanistan’s Shariah-based laws.

“We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn’t talk like a normal person,” prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari told the Associated Press.

“Doctors must examine him,” Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said according to the same report. “If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped.”

But today, Afghan Supreme Court judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada said, “Afghanistan is an Islamic country and its judiciary will act independently and neutrally,” according to a Reuters report. “No other policy will be accepted apart from Islamic orders and what our constitution says,” Mawlavizada added.

Yesterday, in a speech, President Bush said of the Rahman case: “It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another. We have got influence in Afghanistan and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values.

Mounting pressure from the United States, Britain, Italy, Germany and other nations has been directed at Afghanistan over the case.

And within the U.S., concern over the fact that despite some 300 American lives being lost in liberating Afghanistan, a Christian can be put to death under the new Afghan constitution, is high.

“How can we congratulate ourselves for liberating Afghanistan from the rule of jihadists only to be ruled by Islamists who kill Christians?” asked Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. “President Bush should immediately send Vice President Cheney or Secretary Rice to Kabul to read Hamid Karzai’s government the riot act. Americans will not give their blood and treasure to prop up new Islamic fundamentalist regimes. Democracy is more than purple thumbs.”

Karzai, Afghanistan’s new president, is caught in the middle, since he relies on foreign troops to keep Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists in check but also is beholden to the Islamic clerics in his country and Shariah law, which is part of the new constitution.

Although the Afghan prosecutor said Rahman would not be executed if he were found to be mentally unstable, Rahman said recently at a hearing that he is not mentally ill and would defend himself.

“I’m not an apostate” Rahman told the hearing. “I’m obedient to God but I’m a Christian, that’s my choice.”

Whether or not the Afghan judiciary spares Rahman, today senior Muslim clerics insist he must be executed – and that if the government gives in to international pressure and frees Rahman, the clerics will instruct the people to “pull him into pieces.”

“Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die,” said cleric Abdul Raoulf, according to an Associated Press report.

“He is not crazy,” added Hamidullah, chief cleric at Haji Yacob Mosque, according to the AP report. “He went in front of the media and confessed to being a Christian. The government is scared of the international community. But the people will kill him if he is freed.”

Raoulf, who belongs to Afghanistan’s main Islamic organization, the Afghan Ulama Council, said: “The government are playing games. The people will not be fooled.”

“Cut off his head!” he told AP while seated outside the Herati Mosque. “We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there’s nothing left.”

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