The trial of the two Americans, four Germans and two Australians began Tuesday. But, so far, it is not clear how the trial is being conducted, as Taleban authorities have not allowed journalists, diplomats, or relatives of the accused any access to the proceedings, despite an earlier promise to do so. The defendants themselves have not appeared in court since the trial began, and the possible punishment is also unclear.
Members of Taleban religious police arrested the employees of the Germany-based Christian aid group Shelter Now about five weeks ago in Kabul. Sixteen of their Afghan colleagues were also arrested. They are to be tried separately.
Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil is the Taleban's minister for foreign affairs. He accuses the Shelter Now staff of luring people to Christianity by giving money and offering visas to foreign countries.
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Mr. Mutawakil says that by looking at what he calls "undeniable evidence" against the aid workers, anyone can call them criminals. He says Afghans need assistance, but not at the expense of their faith.
Diplomats from Germany, the United States and Australia met Taleban officials on Thursday to try to get information about the legal process. But, so far, diplomats say, they have not gotten satisfactory answers. David Donahue represented the United States in Thursday's discussions with the chief of protocol at the Taleban foreign ministry.
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What we need is more information (about) what is going to be the format? Will they need to appear in court? Will there be a chance to reply, or will it be simply a chance to make a statement? We just don't know the format, and that's what we have been trying to get. I don't think they have much more information than they have provided to us at this point. I think that's to be decided by the chief justice, and, hopefully, he, or someone from the foreign ministry, will be able to provide guidelines to us on what will be the procedure here.
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The Taleban Chief Justice has said the fate of the detained foreigners will be determined according to Islam. But he says the judges will have no objection, if the accused want to use non-Muslim foreign lawyers, even though it is not a common practice in Afghan courts.
The United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, is also in the Afghan capital to discuss the issue with Taleban rulers. He says the trial will be meaningful if it is held in an open court.
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The trial should be a public trial to ensure that the trial conforms to international norms. It seems to me that some proceedings have begun, but I still think I have to find out far more as to, at what point would the defendants appear in court. Of course, they need to know the charges, if they are going to be defended. They obviously cannot be defended, if they don't know what the accusations are.
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On Thursday, authorities in the Afghan capital displayed Christian material as evidence against one of two foreign aid groups expelled from the country last week. The Taleban says its investigation had indicated the two groups were linked to Shelter Now.
Sayed Rahmatullah Hashmi is a senior Taleban official. He says that following the expulsion, authorities seized hundreds of translated Bibles (in Pashto and Dari) and children's books about the life of Jesus Christ from offices of the U-S-based International Assistance Mission.
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Mr. Hashmi played audio he said was from confiscated cassettes, which tell the story of Adam and Eve in the Pashto-language