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Trial for Aid Workers Begins Behind Closed Doors

BY Admin  September 5, 2001 at 6:00 PM EDT

The first court session took place behind closed doors despite earlier promises from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban to keep the court proceedings open to journalists and relatives of the defendants. Officials expect the trial, taking place in the capital Kabul, to last for several days.

Chief Justice Noor Mohammad Saqib and court clerics refused to discuss the case with diplomats from Australia, Germany and the U.S. but did say the proceedings had begun.

“[The trial is] moving fast, but talk of what the punishment will be is premature,” the chief justice told the Associated Press. “We are not saying anything about the trial proceedings or about the punishment until it is finished. The great ulema (clerics) and the judges will decide the punishment according to the principles of Shariat and our Islamic laws.”

The diplomats, thus far unable to meet with any Taliban official, asked reporters to convey their message to Saqib.

“Please pass on the message to the chief justice that we need to know the procedure, so we can pass it on or have it passed on to the detainees,” Australian diplomat Alastar Adams said. “We are not here to interfere with the legal process.”

Four weeks ago, the two Americans, four Germans, two Australians were arrested for preaching Christianity and trying to convert Muslims. Sixteen Afghan citizens were also arrested.

Until last week, Western diplomats and representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross were forbidden access to the foreign aid workers. The whereabouts of the detained Afghans are still unknown.

The aid workers are employees of the Afghan affiliate of Shelter Now International, a Christian organization based in Germany.

According to Taliban law, foreigners found guilty of proselytizing can be sentenced to jail and expulsion; Afghani citizens could be sentenced to death.

Once the court issues its findings, the ultimate punishment will be decided by the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

“If the crime is worthy of imprisonment they will be imprisoned, if the crime is worthy of hanging, they will be hanged,” Pakistan Afghan Islam Press (AIP) quoted Chief Justice Saqib as saying.