Taliban Move Detained Aid Workers ahead of Trial Planned in Open Court
Taliban authorities have moved eight foreign aid workers detained for allegedly preaching Christianity in Afghanistan to an unknown location, guards at the detention center said Sunday.
The detainees were moved out of Kabul's juvenile correction center late Saturday, a Taliban guard at the gate of the center said.
The aid workers -- two Australians, two Americans and four Germans -- from the German-based Shelter Now organization were arrested in early August along with 16 Afghan colleagues.
A Taliban guard said the ruling militia's religious police turned up at about 8:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) and took them away. He gave no further details.
An official at the ministry for promotion of virtue and suppression of vice, known as Taliban's religious police, said the detainees could have been transferred to the intelligence department.
"Presumably they have been taken to the intelligence service," the official said, preferring anonymity.
He declined to spell out the reason for the transfer while foreign diplomats said they were unaware of the move.
Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel said Saturday that investigations into the case were about to be concluded and the aid workers would soon be brought to trial.
He said the trial of the foreigners would be held in open court.
He said diplomats, relatives of the detainees and journalists would be allowed to monitor the proceedings.
The aid workers would also have the right to defense lawyers, he added.
So far the Taliban authorities have given no indication as to when the trial would start or what would be the fate of the 16 Afghans detained along with the foreigners.
Under the hardline militia's strict interpretation of the Islamic Sharia law, Afghans found guilty of renouncing Islam or inviting Muslims to convert to another religion face the death penalty.
But the punishment for foreigners is expected to be less severe, possibly a brief prison term followed by deportation.
Militia officials have said any court ruling would be presented to the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar for a final decision.
The Taliban on Friday ordered two other Christian aid groups to close their offices in Afghanistan and gave their staff 72 hours to quit the country.
Most staff of the International Assistance Mission (IAM) and Serve had already left the country by Saturday while the remaining aid workers were expected to leave later Sunday.
The aid groups' staff, estimated at more than 50 mainly Europeans and Americans, were mostly Christian.
The authorities have said the decision to seal their offices was taken in the light of unspecified "complaints" against them.
Mutawakel assured other aid groups that the Taliban did not suspect them of having links with Shelter Now and urged them to continue their relief work in Afghanistan.
"We need their help. They can pursue their work with full assurance, we will be co-operative with them," he said. "We do not suspect any of them."
He called upon the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) not to indulge in activities which may damage their reputation as aid agencies and create problems for the authorities.
Over 800,000 Afghans have been forced to flee their homes over the past year due to a severe drought and the ongoing civil war between the ruling militia and Afghan opposition forces.
The Taliban militia seized Kabul in 1996 and imposed a puritanical brand of Sharia law in most of the country now under its control -- KABUL (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)