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Foreign Aid Workers Still Detained in Afghanistan

The U.S. State Department announced today that it is trying to send an official to Afghanistan to observe the welfare of the two American women arrested Sunday. The Taliban has said that the detainees are safe and in good health, and that there is no need for a visit.

Afghanistan’s right-wing Islamic government is investigating charges against the two Americans, four Germans, two Australians and sixteen Afghans accused of showing films on Christianity, distributing religious cassettes, and handing out fliers advertising a Christian radio station.

The Taliban has said that two of the foreign workers have confessed to being involved in converting Afghans from Islam to Christianity.

Proselytizing is a crime punishable by death in Afghanistan, where the Taliban controls about 95 percent of the country.

Mohammad Salim Haqqani, the Taliban’s deputy minister for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, presented as evidence computer disks containing the story of Christ in the Dari language and a Dari translation of the Bible.

The Taliban has also sent about 60 children allegedly being taught by the Christian workers to correctional facilities in order “to remove from their hearts and minds the Christian teachings,” said Haqqani. “Once that is done, they will be set free.”

The aid workers were part of Shelter Now International, an organization that provides accommodation to street children. The four Afghan offices are run by the German-based Vision for Asia, a Christian relief organization.

In early July, the Taliban sent every international aid organization a letter outlining the laws of operating in Afghanistan.

All organizations were told to sign a contract forbidding proselytizing and the distribution of material defaming the Taliban government. Other provisions banned obscenity, drinking, loud music, eating pork, and women drivers.

The eight foreigners arrested include Americans Dana Curry and Nicole Barnardhollon; Germans George Taubmann, Magrit Stebnar, Kati Jelinek and Silke Duerrkopf; and Australians Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas.

The U.S., German and Australian embassies in neighboring Pakistan say they are trying to negotiate the release of their nationals.

Pakistan is only one of three countries that recognizes the Taliban government, and is the only nation with an embassy in Afghanistan.

Mario Musa, communications coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul, is awaiting permission to see the imprisoned aid workers.

“Our job is to bring comfort,” Musa said. “Foreigners are particularly vulnerable because there is no diplomatic representation in Kabul.”

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

“We are only involved in humanitarian work,” said Baz Mohammed, and employee at the SNI office in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Other international humanitarian groups worry all foreign workers will be branded proselytizers.

After two decades of war and four years of drought, Afghanistan depends heavily on foreign aid to support its population. In Kabul, nearly two-thirds of the people are dependent on international assistance for their survival.

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