- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

Two Americans jailed for proselytizing in Afghanistan may avoid the death sentence the penalty required by Islamic law but they could be tried under a decree stating that foreigners preaching other religions to Afghan Muslims will be deported after being imprisoned for three to 10 days.

A State Department official confirmed yesterday that Washington had discussed Decree No. 14, issued in June, with representatives of the ruling Taliban, but stopped short of predicting what process the regime in Kabul would follow in its prosecution of the U.S. citizens and six other foreign-aid workers arrested Sunday.

"We've talked about this with Taliban representatives and they confirmed that there is such a decree," said the official, who asked not to be named.

The Taliban regime made official contact with the United States yesterday for the first time since the workers' detention and said a visa request for a Pakistani-based U.S. official to visit Kabul, the Afghan capital, was being processed.

In addition to the Americans Dana Curry and Nicole Barnardhollon four Germans, two Australians and 16 Afghans are among the detainees, who were working for the German relief group Shelter Now. The decree doesn't apply to the Afghans.

Washington, along with the German and Australian governments, continued to press the Taliban regime for access to the workers.

"The Taliban [charge d'affaires] in Islamabad has told our charge that the detained employees of Shelter Now are in good condition and are being treated well," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Because the United States has no diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, the Taliban office in Islamabad, the capital of neighboring Pakistan, is its only point of contact with Kabul. Pakistan is one of only three nations that recognize the Taliban government, which controls 90 percent of the country.

"We will obviously continue to press for the visa and for access to the detainees," Mr. Boucher said. "Our main concern is for their welfare, and we want to be able to meet with them to ensure that they are being properly treated and cared for and that the case will in fact be resolved swiftly."

The State Department has been cautious in its comments on the charges against the detainees in order not to prejudice its case with the Taliban, accused by Washington of giving safe haven to Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden.

"I really don't want to offer any comment on these charges of proselytizing. I think it's important for us to be careful in this matter," Mr. Boucher said.

The workers have denied they were trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. But Taliban officials have insisted they have strong evidence to support their charges.

The Taliban regime also said that 59 children who had been taught by the arrested workers had been sent to a correctional facility, where they would remain until all Christian influences were removed.

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