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Diplomats, Relatives Visit Detainees in Afghanistan

BY Admin  August 27, 2001 at 3:30 PM EDT

Three diplomats from the United States, Germany and Australia, plus the father of American Heather Mercer and the mother of American Dana Curry, arrived in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul Monday evening (12:30 GMT) just hours after receiving their visas.

They were granted access to the foreign detainees soon after they arrived.

Following the two-hour meeting, the diplomats, who last week had tried unsuccessfully to visit their nationals, reported that the aid workers appeared healthy.

“They looked well and they said they were treated well,” U.S. diplomat David Donahue said.

Officials in Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban announced Saturday they would allow access to the eight foreign aid workers — two Americans, four Germans, and two Australians — who have been detained since August 5.

The foreigners were arrested along with 16 Afghan aid workers three weeks ago on charges of proselytizing. They all worked for the German-based Christian relief agency Shelter Now International.

The hard-line Islamic government has held the foreigners in a school for delinquent children, where the two men and six women were separated into different rooms. Until yesterday, the detainees had only had contact with Taliban officials.

The Taliban allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the foreigners yesterday, but due to the group’s pledge to maintain strict neutrality in any conflict, the organization could not discuss the workers’ condition.

Neither the Red Cross nor the diplomats have been able to visit the 16 arrested Afghans, who are being held at an unknown site. The Taliban has said that the Afghan aid workers had converted to Christianity.

Promoting any non-Islamic religion is a serious crime in the 95 percent of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. The fate of the foreign and local detainees has yet to be decided, but the Taliban has said that the supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, will ultimately decide on the punishments.

Some Afghan officials have said the punishment for a foreigner who proselytizes is expulsion, while an Afghan who converts or proselytizes can be sentenced to death. But a clause of Islamic Sharia law says that the death sentence can be avoided if the condemned Afghan recants his conversion and embraces Islam again within thirty days.

According to the Taliban, a great number of Christian materials in the local Persian and Pashtu languages have been confiscated from Shelter Now International’s Kabul offices.

Taliban officials have said the group’s main concern was not with the Christian faith, but with the attempts to push Chrisitanity on Muslims.

“These detainees have been allowed to keep their Bibles, but in English,” said Abdul Ghafoor Afghani, chief of the Taliban’s protocol department. “We know that this is their religion and we respect that.”

One of the detained Americans, Dana Curry, suffered from an asthma attack over the weekend and was taken by Taliban officials to her home for medication, and then to a Kabul hospital for X-rays.