Afghan Taliban demand death for Christian, Jewish converts

KABUL, Jan 8 (AFP) - The leader of Afghanistan's puritanical Taliban militia has issued an edict imposing the death penalty on any Afghan Muslim who converts to Christianity or Judaism, an official radio report said Monday.

The decree from Taliban Supreme Leader Mulla Mohammad Omar also said anyone caught selling "anti-Islamic literature" would be sentenced to five years jail, according to state-run Radio Shariat.

Omar said the tough measures were necessary to counter a global campaign against Islam.

"Therefore it is seriously announced to all countrymen that if an Afghan Muslim accepts Christian beliefs or has converted to this abolished religion, or if he is seen professing Christianity and Judaism, distributing their religious literature or making publicity in their interest, he will be condemned to death," the edict said.

Omar's decrees are law in the roughly 90 percent of Afghanistan under the control of the militia, which in the name of Islam has also banned music, television and barred women from education and most employment.

The decree said the Taliban had discovered "numerous plots" to convert Muslims to other religions and corrupt Islam.

"It is seen that enemies of the sacred religion of Islam are making efforts throughout the world to eliminate this pure religion ...," it said, adding that some Muslims had converted to Christianity for material benefits.

Senior Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen alleged that certain foreigners in Afghanistan were secretly trying to convert Afghan Muslims to Christianity.

"There are programmes by some agencies inside and outside Afghanistan to do this," he said, without identifying the organizations.

"There are some foreigners who seek to do this secretely."

He said the regime's religious police, charged with enforcing the Taliban's extreme version of Sharia and tribal law, would implement the new edict.

Under the Sunni Taliban's unique creed, murderers are executed by their victims' families, thieves' hands are chopped off, adulterers are stoned to death and homosexuals are killed by having a tank flatten a wall on them.

The movement of "Islamic students" emerged in 1994 and seized Kabul two years later, but they are still battling armed opposition groups in various parts of the country.

They crave international recognition but their regime has been recognized only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference has left Afghanistan's seat vacant.

The United Nations, which still recognises ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani, last month broadened sanctions against the Taliban for its alleged support for international terrorism.