The Taliban, Afghanistan’s hard-line Islamic government, today rejected new visas for the American, German and Australian diplomats. They have been in Kabul for a week and will return to Islamabad, the capital of neighboring Pakistan, tomorrow.
The diplomats had travelled to Kabul to meet with the eight foreign aid workers arrested more than two weeks ago for proselytizing. The Taliban refused to grant them access to the two Americans, two Australians, and four Germans being held in an Afghan prison.
“We’re leaving, but its not over,” said U.S. Consul-General to Pakistan David Donahue. The diplomats plan to go to the Taliban embassy immediately upon their return to Pakistan to demand access to their citizens.
“The serious problem with this is that it is a denial of international practice,” Donahue said. “When a foreign national is detained, they should get access to their national consular representative.”
The United Nations has warned that, by refusing access to the foreign detainees, the Taliban is in violation of international diplomatic rules.
The eight foreigners all worked for Shelter Now International, a German-based Christian relief organization. They were arrested along with 16 Afghan aid workers for allegedly promoting Christianity among the Muslim population, a crime punishable by death in the 95 percent of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban.
The Taliban has said there will be no diplomatic access to the detainees until the conclusion of the investigation, which has been expanded to include violations by other organizations, including United Nations agencies and the World Food Program.
Aid workers in Kabul say that more arrests could lead to a mass exodus from Afghanistan.
The Taliban arrested the aid workers for showing films on Christianity, distributing religious cassettes, and handing out fliers advertising a Christian radio station. The government 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.
Both converting from Islam and encouraging conversion are crimes punishable by death according to Islamic Sharia law. There have been claims that the death sentence does not apply to foreigners, but the Taliban has not yet disclosed details regarding possible punishment for the foreign detainees.
Representatives from Shelter Now International have denied all accusations of promoting Christianity. The say the organization warns its workers against proselytizing in Afghanistan.