An Afghan convert to Christianity underwent medical tests Monday that could see him spared from execution, after a court dropped its case against him amid doubts over his mental health, a prosecutor said.
The trial in Kabul has gripped the world's attention
"The doctor's check-up will decide his fate -- we have just sent him to a mental health hospital for a check-up," state prosecutor Abdul Wasay told AFP.
Abdul Rahman could be free within days
The Supreme Court said Sunday it would not proceed with the trial under Islamic law of Abdul Rahman, after testimony from his relatives that he is mentally unstable. It referred the case back to the attorney general who, pending the results of the tests, can return the case to court or dismiss it.
"In our law it is clear -- if one is not mentally healthy, he or she cannot be tried, he can be freed," Wasay said.
Supreme Court spokesman Wakil Omari said on Sunday that Rahman's relatives had said the convert was "not mentally fit.
"He himself has said that he hears strange voices in his head," he said.
The case has stirred a storm of protest in Germany, the US and other nations on which war-shattered Afghanistan relies to rebuild and stem a deadly Taliban insurgency. These nations have demanded Afghanistan respect international laws on freedom of religion.
Afgha n protests agai n st droppi n g case
But the government, which does not want to alienate its allies, is also under pressure from religious circles to respect Islamic Sharia law on which the constitution is partly based.
Around 200 men demonstrated in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif Monday against the court decision not to proceed with the trial.
The men, mostly students and mullahs from a local Islamic school, condemned Western "interference" and chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Bush."
They said Rahman should be hanged according to Sharia, which says that a person who converts away from Islam should be put to death unless they revert.
"We want Islamic Sharia implemented, we want him executed," the men chanted in the one-hour gathering.
Serious crisis for Kabul gover n me n t
Rahman, who is 41, converted 16 years ago in Pakistan and spent many years in Germany before returning to Afghanistan in around 2002. He was arrested two weeks ago after his parents went to the authorities, reportedly following a family dispute.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Under intense Western pressure, President Hamid Karzai held a series of meetings at the weekend to find a way out of what an official described as a "serious crisis" for the government.
Analysts have said the dropping of the trial on grounds of Rahman's mental health would be a way out for the government. Some officials predicted Rahman, being held at a maximum security jail on the outskirts of Kabul, would be freed in a few days.