KABUL, Afghanistan — The chief judge trying the case of an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity has criticized international calls for his release, saying no one has the right to pressure the court.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Friday joined the chorus of Western leaders who have expressed outrage, saying he would protest personally to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"This is appalling. When I saw the report about this I felt sick, literally," Howard told an Australian radio network. "The idea that a person could be punished because of their religious belief and the idea they might be executed is just beyond belief."
Abdur Rahman, 41, faces the death penalty under Afghanistan's Islamic laws for converting 16 years ago while he was a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Ansarullah Mawlavizada, the chief among three judges, said the court should be allowed to reach its own decision. "Nobody has the right to put pressure on us," he said.
Mawlavizada said there had been no internal pressure on the court to drop the case.
Clerics in Kabul, the Afghan capital, have voiced support for the prosecution and warned Friday that they would incite people to kill Rahman unless he reverted to Islam.