Taleban warn of death for converts

The supreme leader of the ruling Taleban in Afghanistan, Mullah Mohamad Omar, has warned that the death penalty will be applied to any Muslim who converts to another faith.

An edict issued by Mullah Omar said strict Islamic law or Sharia would apply to any Afghan Muslim who was caught professing Christianity or Judaism. This included distributing literature and other publicity material promoting non-Islamic faiths. The Taleban, who control most of Afghanistan, follow a strict interpretation of Islam.

The decree by Mullah Omar referred to what were described as attempts by enemies of Islam to win over Muslims to Christianity and Judaism. It said that some Afghans had converted for material benefits. "It is seen that enemies of the sacred religion of Islam are making efforts throughout the world to eliminate this pure religion." The statement did not elaborate.

However a Taleban spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmain, said that foreigners in Afghanistan were secretly trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. "There are programmes by some agencies inside and outside Afghanistan to do this," he said, without identifying the organisations allegedly involved.

Since taking control of 90% of Afghanistan, the Taleban have introduced Islamic punishments, including execution and amputation of limbs. They have also barred women from most jobs, and insisted that both men and women follow a strict dress code.

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