- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's Taliban rulers said yesterday that a group of aid workers — including two Americans — will remain jailed until the hard-line Muslim militia completes its investigation of charges they were spreading Christianity.
Promoting any religion other than Islam is a crime punishable by death in the 95 percent of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. The militia says it already has statements from Afghans that the group was trying to convert.
So far, the Taliban has refused to allow anyone to visit the 24 aid workers.
"They are all in good condition," said Salim Haqqani of the Taliban's ministry for promotion of virtue and prevention of vice. "We have given them three good meals, and they are living in a nice room."
A Taliban official said that among those held were two Americans — Dana Curry and Nicole Barnardhollon — four Germans and two Australians. The remaining detainees were Afghans.
The State Department said yesterday it was trying to use its influence to free the two Americans arrested by the Taliban.
"We're certainly concerned about their welfare, and we'll be doing everything we can to see to their welfare," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing.
Because the Taliban is not recognized as Afghanistan's legitimate leadership by the United Nations, the United States and most other governments, the United States is working through Pakistan.
"The Taliban officials in Islamabad tell us they have queried the Taliban in Kabul, but so far we haven't received any information, nor have they. The Taliban say the detainees are well but have not allowed anyone to contact them," Mr. Boucher said.
The workers' organization, Shelter Now International, is run in Afghanistan by a German-based Christian relief agency called Vision for Asia.
The aid agency previously had been run by a U.S.-based group of the same name, but the Germans took it over several years ago, after the Americans were threatened on suspicion of proselytizing in Afghan refugee camps.
Norman Leatherwood, executive director of the U.S. group, Shelter Now International, based in Oshkosh, Wis., said the two groups have maintained contact with the Afghanistan relief program but are not affiliated.
"We're still very concerned about those who have been detained and are following the situation," Mr. Leatherwood said.
The Kabul office was sealed Sunday after a raid by enforcement officers of the Taliban's virtue and vice ministry, witnesses said.
The officers reportedly seized a Bible, two computers, Christian literature translated into the local Dari language, cassettes and musical instruments.
"An investigation is being conducted, and it will be decided according to Shariah [Islamic law]," said Salim Haqqani, a ministry spokesman.
Under the Taliban's strict brand of Islamic law, the promotion of any religion other than Islam or the conversion from Islam to any religion is punishable by death.
In 1990, the U.S.-based Shelter Now International organization faced similar charges for its actions in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. Orthodox Islamists rioted and threatened to kill the group's executive director at the time. That's when the U.S.-based group stopped working with Afghan refugees, Mr. Leatherwood said. He added that although his group is Christian, it does not proselytize in countries where it provides assistance.
Besides the Shelter Now workers, the Taliban also arrested 64 Afghans whom they said had received instructions in Christianity from Shelter Now workers.

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