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Diplomats to Visit Detained Foreign Aid Workers

BY Admin  August 9, 2001 at 6:00 PM EDT

Sohail Shaheen, deputy Taliban ambassador in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, said that he would receive visa clearance for diplomats from the United States, Germany and Australia. He expected the clearances by Saturday.

“I am sure they will meet the authorities and they also will be given access to the evidence including the detainees,” Shaheen told Reuters Television.

According to the Afghan Islamic Press, the Taliban is ready to present evidence to the diplomats that the aid workers were proselytizing.

The eight foreigners — two Americans, four Germans, and two Australians — were arrested along with 16 Afghans for allegedly promoting Christianity among the Muslim population.

Proselytizing is a crime punishable by death in the 95 percent of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban.

While the 16 Afghans may indeed face the death penalty, it is likely that the foreign workers will be expelled rather than executed. A new law known as Decree 14, issued in June, states that foreigners preaching other religions to Afghan Muslims will be deported after three to 10 days in jail.

But some senior officials at the Taliban’s foreign and interior ministries say they don’t know about the decree. The fate of the foreign aid workers is still uncertain.

The 24 people arrested all worked for Shelter Now International, a German-based Christian relief agency.

They have been accused of showing films on Christianity, distributing religious cassettes, and handing out fliers advertising a Christian radio station. The Taliban says it has confiscated thousands of Bibles and Christian video and audio tapes, all in the local Dari and Pushto languages, from Shelter Now International’s Kabul offices.

Representatives from Shelter Now International assert that their employees do not perform missionary work.

“We are only involved in humanitarian work,” Baz Mohammed, an SNI employee in Peshawar, Pakistan, told Reuters.

In early July, the Taliban sent every international aid organization a letter outlining the laws of operating in Afghanistan, which included a provision forbidding proselytizing and the distribution of material defaming the Taliban government.

The diplomats will check on the welfare and treatment of the foreign detainees. They also plan to inquire about the condition of the arrested Afghans.

Since Sunday, several Shelter Now staff members, including 16 foreign nationals in Kabul, have fled Afghanistan. Most have gone to neighboring Pakistan, the only country with an embassy in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s staunchest ally.