Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, April 07, 2006

Anti-Conversion Laws and Religious Freedom in South Asia and the Middle East: The Case of Abdul Rahman

April 7, 2006
Washington, D.C. –

Congressional Human Rights Caucus member Rep. Todd Akin hosted a briefing this morning to discuss the case of Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert who could have the death penalty under Shari’a law. Ambassador John Hanford from the State Department’s Office of International Freedom; Felice Gaer, Vice-Chair of Freedom House’s United States Commission on Religious Freedom; J. Alexander Their, a Senior Rule of Law Advisor with the Rule of Law Program at the U.S. Institute of Peace; Nina Shea, the Director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom; Angela Wu, Director of International Advocacy for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; and Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim Chaplain at Georgetown University, all spoke.

Afghanistan is still in the midst of a “slow and painful recovery” following two decades of warfare, Hanford said. The U.S. has “rehabilitated 27 judiciaries” so far, he continued, but much work is ahead to establish a completely democratic court system. Hanford said he has never been more impressed with the U.S. than in the way it handled Rahman’s case, expressing appreciation for all of President Bush and Condoleezza Rice’s effective efforts to prevent Rahman from receiving a death sentence. “The case turned out much better than it would have in the past,” he declared, adding, “We see things moving in the right direction.”

“Clearly the Abdul Rahman case points to the weak state of human rights in Afghanistan,” Gaer said. She suggested encouraging President Karzai to appoint independent human rights leaders and said judges and prosecutors ought to be trained in human rights law. She said that without these steps there will continue to be “abusive interpretations” of religious laws, such as anti-conversion laws.

Their said he believes that the Rahman case “was not about Islam, it was about power.” The good news is that change is possible, he said. The ambiguity of laws can be set to protect rights up to the judiciary system.

Shea said the Rahman case is not the only one of its kind. She says it is best to work with the judicial system on less extreme cases. “Democracy evolves overtime,” she said, but to start a democracy needs to establish basic freedoms such as freedom of religion.

Wu suggested some ways that the U.S. can support religious freedom, including the following: support rule of law and fundamental freedoms, support indigenous workers who are already committed to such cases, and train domestic activists to develop think tanks. She said it is best to “separate culture from truth- which endures and cannot die.”

Along similar lines, Hendi said the world must safeguard the rights of freedom, the rights of the internet and freedom of religion, adding the need to safeguard wealth, dignity, and land under the laws of Islam. He said he also believes U.S. Muslims should become more active in the process. “Shari’a law should not and must not be used by politicians” to create tensions with citizens of Muslim nations, he concluded.

Rep. Akin said Afghanistan’s constitution was contradictory to begin with in terms of civil versus religious law. He also said believes we can define ‘freedom’ a little bit more precisely, adding that the government is to protect the God-given rights of people. “Fight for the right for someone else to be wrong,” he declared.


Post a Comment

<< Home