Afghan Christian convert flees to Italy

.- Italy has granted asylum to a Christian who faced the death penalty in his native country of Afghanistan for having converted from Islam 16 years ago. Conversion is a crime under Afghanistan's Islamic law. He was arrested after police discovered him with a Bible.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi said yesterday that Abdul Rahman, 41, whose case made headlines worldwide, was in the care of the Interior Ministry after arriving in Italy earlier in the day, reported the Associated Press.

Rahman’s case was dismissed on a technicality but many still feared for his life once released.

Pope Benedict XVI had appealed on Rahman’s behalf to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and the United Nations had made efforts to find a country to take him.

Afghanistan's Parliament had demanded earlier Wednesday that the government prevent Rahman from fleeing the country.

Italy has close ties with Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s former king, Mohammed Zaher Shah, lived with his family in exile in Rome for 30 years. They returned to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban regime. Italian troops were sent into Afghanistan to help with reconstruction, after the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2001.

Muslim clerics in Afghanistan condemned Rahman's release, saying it was a "betrayal of Islam," and threatened to incite violent protests.

According to the AP, Abdulrahman Jan, the top cleric in Zabul province, said the government should either force Rahman to convert back to Islam or kill him. "This is a terrible thing and a major shame for Afghanistan," he reportedly said. The cleric had met with about 500 other people in a mosque to criticize the government’s release of Rahman.

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