03/30/2006, 00.00
ITALY – AFGHANISTAN
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Afghan convert reaches Italy

"We are very glad to be able to welcome someone who has been so courageous," the Italian Prime Minister said.

Rome (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Italy yesterday granted asylum to the Afghan man who risked the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity. Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister, confirmed that the man "arrived in the country during the night". The Afghan parliament had called on the national authorities not to allow the convert, Abdul Rahman, to leave the country.

The Italian premier's office said: "The cabinet unanimously approved his asylum." Shortly before the morning cabinet meeting, Berlusconi said Italy would be happy to give asylum to Rahman. "We are very glad to be able to welcome someone who has been so courageous," the prime minister said.

On Tuesday 28 March, Giuseppe Pisanu, Internal Affairs Minister, said he "would bring all forms of protection and assistance to the refugee", anticipating approval of Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini's asylum request.

The imprisonment of 41-year-old Rahman in Afghanistan drew an appeal from Pope Benedict XVI to the President, Hamid Karzai and efforts from the United Nations to find a country to host him. Fini had made his stand clear from the outset: he said Italy had the "duty" to express "its indignation" about the matter in some way or other.

According to Afghan law, which draws inspiration from Islam, conversion is a crime: Rahman was arrested last month, accused by his relatives of apostasy. His trial started last week: he was charged with having embraced Christianity 16 years ago, when he worked in Pakistan as a health worker for a Christian organization involved in aid relief for Afghan refugees.

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