Abdul Rahman's Family Values

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Western leaders breathed a sigh of relief yesterday at the release of Abdul Rahman, a Christian convert who had faced the death penalty under Afghanistan's Islamic law for renouncing his Muslim faith. Rahman, 40, has become the poster boy for the Christian right and for religious freedom. Closer up, however, the picture painted by the local police who arrested him shows a candidate not quite ready for family values. Rather, a portrait emerges of a deadbeat dad with psychological problems who couldn't hold down a job, abused his daughters and parents and didn't pay child support.

Colonel Mohammed Saber Monseffi, the chief crime officer at the 15th district police station in Kabul, brought Abdul Rahman in for questioning after a domestic dispute turned violent late last month. Says Monseffi, "He told me, 'I'm a Christian,' and I said that is not of any interest to me. I asked him why did you beat your father, why did you beat your daughters?" The fact that Rahman was Christian was secondary to his family's desire to get him out of the house, said Monseffi, who adds that his own wife is a Russian Christian.

Witness statements by his teenage daughters Mariam and Maria, aged 13 and 14, on the night of his arrest appear to detail his failures as a parent. "He behaves badly with us and we were threatened and disgraced by him. He has no job and has never given me a stitch of clothing or a crust of bread. Just his name as a father," said his 13-year-old daughter Mariam in a statement signed with her inky fingerprint.

Both his daughters mentioned that he had converted to Christianity and abandoned the religion of Islam but also described him as "jobless, lazy and cruel." His 14-year-old daughter Maria said that when her father returned to Afghanistan three years ago after spending many years in Germany and Pakistan he was a stranger to her. "He said he was my father but he hasn't behaved like a father since he came back to Afghanistan. He threatens us and we are all afraid of him and he doesn't believe in the religion of Islam," her statement said.

Abdul Rahman's parents did not appear to help his cause. A statement by his mother Ghul Begum reads: "We brought up his children and for eight years he didn't come home. Because he has converted from Islam to another religion we don't want him in our house." His father Abdul Manan's statement says, "[Abdul Rahman] wanted to change the ethics of my children and family. He is not going in the right direction. I have thrown him out of my house." Abdul Rahman's own statement does not dispute his financial straits. "Since I am jobless my family is with my children. I had economic problems with my familiy and my father has many complaints about me. He has warned me if I don't become a Muslim, I will be driven away from the house."

Now, both his daughters and the rest of his family are in hiding in Kabul, fearful that they could be targeted by a now liberated Rahman or by Islamic extremists. On Monday several hundred clerics, students and other protestors gathered on the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif calling for his execution and shouting "death to Christians." Afghanistan's deputy attorney general Mohammed Eshaq Aloko said Rahman would be allowed overseas for medical treatment but that the case could be reopened "when he is healthy."