- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two American women jailed in Afghanistan on charges of preaching Christianity met with their parents yesterday in a "close and warm reunion" more than three weeks after their arrests, a U.S. diplomat said.
Dana Curry met with her mother and Heather Mercer met with her father for two hours behind 10-foot-high walls that hid a sprawling compound guarded by rifle-toting soldiers of the Taliban, the hard-line leadership that imposes its strict version of Islam on the war-ravaged country.
"It was a very close and a warm reunion, as you can imagine it would be," David Donahue, the consul general at the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Pakistan, told reporters after the meeting, which came after weeks of efforts to gain access to the jailed foreigners.
Mr. Donahue and two other Western diplomats accompanied John Mercer and Miss Curry's mother, who would not give her name, to a reform school where the Americans and six other foreign aid workers have been held since their arrests in early August.
"I think all of them looked well," Mr. Donahue said. "Everyone met together. We discussed things like, 'How are you? How have you been treated? What conditions are you living under? Did you receive the packages we sent you?' — and they said they had."
Miss Curry and Miss Mercer are in their 20s. Their hometowns have not been released. They were arrested along with four Germans, two Australians and 16 Afghan employees of Shelter Now International, a German-based Christian aid group.
"We caught them red-handed," Information Minister Qadratullah Jamal told the Associated Press in an interview yesterday.
"We caught them with compact discs that told about Christians and told of becoming Christians. They had Bibles and books in our languages."
Under Taliban law, the penalty for a foreigner convicted of propagating a religion other than Islam in the mostly Muslim nation is three to 10 days in jail followed by expulsion. The penalty for an Afghan who converts to Christianity is death.
Mr. Donahue said there were no discussions with the detained workers about the Taliban investigation, but that he and the other diplomats hoped to meet with Taliban officials today to discuss it.
The diplomats also expect to see the detained workers again, as do the parents, who declined to meet with reporters.
Miss Curry's mother "wishes to keep as much to herself as possible," Mr. Donahue said. "She has come here to see her child and to see her come home."
The group was taken to the meeting in black Mercedes vehicles that sped through the streets of Kabul, a city ruined by years of war and disrepair.
Two boxes addressed to Miss Mercer and a blue suitcase were loaded into the trunk of one of the vehicles.
The reform school where the foreigners have been held is for children considered delinquents, many of them arrested for begging or scavenging.
The Taliban has refused to say where the Afghan staffers were being held and has not permitted anyone to see them.
The aid workers met Sunday with Red Cross officials, their first foreign visitors since their arrests. However, because of Red Cross confidentiality rules, the officials said nothing about their condition.

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