Urgent Persecution Prayer Request
August 7, 2001
Afghan Taliban Says Aid Workers Insulted Islam
Filed at 8:04 a.m. ET
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's ruling Taliban on Tuesday brushed aside international criticism over the arrest of 24 foreign and local staff from an international aid agency for promoting Christianity, saying those detained had insulted Islam.
The Taliban's religious police in Kabul on Sunday arrested eight foreign staff and 16 Afghan workers with Christian relief agency Shelter Now International.
Proselytising is punishable by death under the strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law imposed by the Taliban.
The United States, Australia and Germany all said they were concerned for their nationals, who include four Germans, two Australians and two Americans, and were seeking access to them through their diplomatic missions in neighboring Pakistan.
``We have our concerns too. A fair one and is that these people strongly insulted our religion and traditions. The concern shown by foreigners is not justified,'' Mohammad Salim Haqqani, Taliban Deputy Minister for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, told Reuters.
A spokesman at the Australian High Commission in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, said envoys were trying to get some answers from Afghanistan. ``We may have to get up there,'' said the spokesman.
FEARS FOR DETAINED AFGHANS
Haqqani said investigations were continuing and the fate of those arrested would be determined by the law and the orders of supreme Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
There has been no indication from Omar whether he will show flexibility and bow to international pressure. One Kabul-based aid worker said she was more concerned for the fate of the 16 Afghans than for the foreigners. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Tuesday rejected charges the Australians had spread Christianity.
``They may be Christian but they are not there to undermine Islam and spread Christianity. They are there to help with problems of poverty in Afghanistan,'' Downer told reporters in Canberra, adding he would like Pakistan's help to resolve the issue.
Pakistan, one of only three countries to recognize the hardline regime as Afghanistan's government, appears to have some influence with the Taliban, although the movement ignored appeals from Islamabad and other countries not to destroy ancient Buddha statues this year.
Spokesmen at the U.S. and Australian missions in Islamabad said they still had no official confirmation of the arrests, but a German embassy spokesman said the German arrests were confirmed.
He named the four detained Germans as Georg Taubmann, Katrin Gelinek, Margrit Stebner and Silke Durrkops. Taubmann is believed to head Shelter Now operations in Afghanistan.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Kabul said it had offered to visit the foreign detainees.
The U.S.-based SNI (www.shelter.org) said although it did have a presence in Afghanistan, the detainees were working for a German-based group that used SNI's name without permission, a statement that confused the German embassy spokesman.
``The German NGO workers had valid working contracts with the Shelter Now organization,'' he said. ``So far I have not noticed any rift between the main organization in Wisconsin and the field offices in Pakistan and Afghanistan.''
The Taliban say they have also sent 59 children who were being taught by the arrested workers to a correctional facility, where they would remain until all traces of Christianity were removed.
The official Taliban news sources have said authorities had recovered bibles, and that the arrests were made while the foreign workers were showing an Afghan family material about Christianity on a computer.