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Afghan Christian Convert Released

Following an international outcry, an Afghan man facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity has been freed, the Afghan justice minister said on Tuesday, citing doubts over his mental capacity to stand trial.

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Senior clerics in Kabul demanded Rahman's prosecution, but he will go free

Abdur Rahman, 40, was jailed this month for abandoning Islam and converting to Christianity. Under Islamic sharia law, he could have faced death as punishment unless he reverted to Islam.

According to Afghan Justice Minister Sarwar Danish, the authorities were obliged to order Rahman's release because there were problems with the case presented against him in court and because of doubts over his mental capacity to stand trial.

Afghanistan Abdul Rahman droht Todesstrafe weil Christ

Afghani Abdul Rahman converted from Islam to Christianity, and was prosecuted for it

"Last night he was released from custody," Justice Minister Sarwar Danish told AFP.

The time the courts had to start the trial against him had also lapsed and there had been no effort to extend it, he said.

Face-saving solution

Following pressure mainly from Germany, the United States and the EU for Rahman's release, Afghanistan's Western-backed government had been searching for a face-saving way out of the situation that would also appease conservative clerics who were demanding Rahman be punished.

The United Nations has been working with President Hamid Karzai's government on a solution and said late on Monday that Rahman had requested asylum abroad. A UN source said he was being held in a UN compound amid fears for his safety but this was not confirmed by the world body.

Some circles inside the Afghanistan have condemned Western "interference" in the matter. About 200 religious clerics and students marched in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif Monday to demand Rahman's execution.

Officials said authorities expected more demonstrations Tuesday.

Asylum plan

It's hoped that one of the Western countries involved in the controversy will accept Rahman as a refugee.

"We expect that this will provided by one of the countries interested in a peaceful solution to this case," Adrian Edwards, a UN spokesman in Kabul, said.

Rahman became a Christian while working for an aid group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan 15 years ago. He later lived in Germany before returning to Afghanistan.

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