Kabul, Afghanistan The Afghan man who had faced the death penalty for abandoning Islam for Christianity will be released for mental evaluation soon, possibly today, potentially defusing a case that sparked international outrage and caused many to question which way the country was heading.
A Kabul court tossed out the case Sunday, sending it back to the prosecutor's office for more investigation, Judge Ansarullah Mawlawizada said.
Doctors will evaluate whether Abdul Rahman is mentally ill. The court also wants to know whether Rahman, 42, holds a passport for another country.
While Rahman could be granted asylum in a Western country, officials fear that would open the door to other Afghans' conversions because it would be a guaranteed way out of the country. If Rahman has another passport, that would skirt the asylum issue.
Rahman has spent more than a month in jail since showing up at a police station and announcing he had converted to Christianity.
"He will probably be sent to the hospital (today)," Mohammed Eshak Aloko, Afghanistan's deputy attorney general, said Sunday evening. "He is not considered a prisoner anymore. He is a sick person."
Afghan authorities hope to avoid a political firestorm by declaring Rahman mentally ill.
Since Rahman's first hearing March 16, the case has drawn widespread condemnation of Afghanistan, where an international coalition still props up the fledgling central government that was set up after the Taliban were driven out in late 2001.
Rahman reportedly converted to Christianity while working for a Christian aid group in Pakistan 16 years ago. He spent several years abroad, mostly in Europe, before returning to Afghanistan three years ago.
Several countries have hinted they would pull their troops from Afghanistan if Rahman were killed. President Bush, other world leaders, Christian groups and the pope have called on Afghanistan's government to release him.
But many Afghans have said Rahman should be killed. The fundamentalist Taliban may be gone, but much of the country remains conservative. Although the constitution protects human rights and freedom of religion, it also says Islamic law is the law of the land.
Many conservative clerics believe the Koran and Islamic law mandates the death penalty for any Muslim who rejects Islam and does not repent.