Afghan aid workers' families fearing worst for relatives

Saturday, September 1, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan -- While Western diplomats appeal daily on behalf of eight foreign aid workers arrested for preaching Christianity, the families of Afghans of the same group hear nothing of their jailed relatives and fear the worst.

Armed members of the radical Islamic Taliban militia, meanwhile, closed the offices of two more Christian aid organizations Friday, making no arrests but ordering some 50 mostly American expatriate employees to leave Afghanistan within 72 hours.

The Taliban have allowed International Red Cross officials and Western diplomats to meet the eight foreigners -- two American, four German and two Australians -- arrested in early August when their German-based Christian organization, Shelter Now International, was shut down.

But access to the imprisoned Afghan workers, who could face death if found guilty of proselytizing or converting to Christianity in this deeply Muslim nation, has been denied.

Twelve-year-old Amjad says he has seen his father only once since the Taliban arrested him outside of the Shelter Now office in Kabul. Amjad says he is too afraid to give his father's name for fear of angering the ruling militia.

"We are so afraid. We don't know what will happen to him. We don't even know if he is OK. My mother cries all the time," said Amjad, who works 12 hours a day as an apprentice mechanic in Kabul. "We want the world to ask about our families."

'What about us?'

The Taliban, who control about 95 percent of Afghanistan, initially said 16 Afghan workers with Shelter Now were arrested. Since then other laborers for the organization -- such as gardeners, cooks and carpenters -- also have been jailed.

"Everyone is talking about the foreigners, but no one is talking about the Afghans, about my brother," said Mohammed Hakim, whose brother worked as a gardener for the organization. "What about us? We are afraid."

The Taliban announced Wednesday that the eight foreign aid workers would be put on trial for preaching Christianity. For foreigners, conviction carries a penalty of jail and expulsion. A senior Taliban official told The Associated Press they will likely be released.

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