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September 30, 2001

AFGHAN TRIAL RESUMES AGAINST CHRISTIAN WORKERS
Family urges Bush to postpone military action

By: Stefan J. Bos
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

KABUL/ISLAMABAD (ANS) -- The trial of eight Western aid workers accused of spreading Christianity in mainly Moslim Afghanistan resumed in the Afghan Capital Kabul Sunday, September 30, as family members pleaded to United States President George W. Bush to postpone retaliatory action against the country.

The US is considering military strikes against Afghanistan and has not ruled out to topple the Taliban regime for harbouring Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile believed to be the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks against America.

Deborah Oddy, the mother of 24-year old American prisoner Heather Mercer, told reporters in the Pakistan Capital Islamabad that she had received a letter from her daughter written September 25 asking her to urge President Bush "not to take any retaliatory action until we've been freed." It was not clear if the letter was written under pressure from Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime.

Oddy quoted her daughter as saying "all eight of us want to live". Heather is held along with 29-year old American Dayna Curry as well as Germans George Taubmann, Margrit Stebnar, Kati Jelinek and Silke Duerrkopf, Australians Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas, and 16 Afghan colleagues.

Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, confirmed Sunday, September 30, that his country had actively tried to win the release of the eight Christians. "We would have very much liked the eight detained aid workers to be released," he said about the efforts from Pakistan, the only country to maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime.

SHELTER NOW

The aid workers were all staff members of the German based Christian Charity Shelter Now which has helped tens of thousands of refugees and street children in the war ravaged nation.

Samanta Thomas, the sister of Australian Diana Thomas, told Australian Broadcasting Corp that everyone was "worried about her trial" at a time when "they're going to attack in that area, you know. It's too much to bear at the moment," she said. However the father of Heather Mercer said in Islamabad he believed that if the United States attacks, the Taliban "would do their utmost to keep them safe."

John Mercer stressed he had still not given up hope that his daughter and all others will be out. "We never wanted it to be part of what happened on September 11 (when terrorists attacked America)", added Heather Mercer's mother.

U.S Rev. Jesse Jackson was to travel to the area to secure their daughters' release, along with the six others. But Jackson said Friday he felt it was not the right time to travel to the region, adding he would "continue to talk with ministers and clergy around the world to work and pray for a peaceful conclusion," the Cable News Network reported.  U.S officials had strongly argued against Jackson's trip to Afghanistan saying that it was not appropriate and dangerous at this time.

HEALTH CONCERNS

Mercer's parents said they were forced to leave Afghanistan following the September 11 attacks "because of the security situation." Close to tears, John Mercer urged the lawyer representing the aid workers to tell his daughter "that we are here, in Islamabad."

In Kabul the trial, already postponed for three weeks, was briefly delayed over health concerns of at least one of the aid workers. One of the defendants, German Silke Duerrkopf, at first didn't show up to Sunday's proceedings because she reportedly said she felt ill. But the court sent for her at a Kabul detention center, saying her presence was necessary. Reporters on the scene said she later arrived "looking pale."

The chief investigator, Mohammed Umer Hanif, read the charges aloud and recited a list of items that had been seized from the aid workers' offices in August, including what he said "were cassettes and reading material related to Christianity." Taliban's religious police had gathered the materials as "evidence against the aid workers."

DEATH PENALTY

Under the Taliban's strict representation of Islamic law the aid workers could face the death penalty, although some analysts suggested Sunday that the Westerners may face a jail sentence only. The Afghan workers however are expected to face the death penalty, if convicted.

Speaking outside Court, Pakistani lawyer Atif Ali Khan, who defends the aid workers, said he was given up to 15 days to prepare his case. "At this moment I don't know if more attorney's are required to defend the aid workers. I first have to look through the materials handed over to me," the lawyer said. He added that under the circumstances the aid workers "are doing well."

But the trial and possible military action has made it more difficult for international organizations to operate in Afghanistan. However a United Nations aid convoy carrying 200 tons of food and supplies was on its way to Afghanistan. It was the first substantial aid for the country since the attacks on New York and Washington, which interrupted UN aid to the troubled region.


Award winning Journalist Stefan J. Bos was born on the 19th of September 1967 in a small home in downtown Amsterdam, in the Netherlands not far from the typewriter of his father, who was (and still is) a Reporter and ghostwriter.   Already at a very young age Bos decided to become a journalist and finally arrived in the same country where his parents had smuggled Bibles during Communism:  Hungary.  

Before joining ANS he worked since December 1988 as the Budapest-based Central and Eastern Europe Correspondent for several media including newspapers, Belgium and Dutch broadcasting networks and later also for The Voice of America, CBS-News, Deutsche Welle, National Public Radio and Vatican Radio.

Bos has traveled extensively to cover wars and revolutions throughout the region and received the Annual Press Award of Merit from the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for his coverage about foreign policy affairs including Hungary's relationship with NATO and the European Union.   Bos is married to Agnes Bos Regossi, an ethnic Hungarian born in Ukraine, who works as a respected Journalist/Producer for the Russian services of the BBC, Radio France International and other networks.

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