Charges dropped in Afghan blasphemy row

Afghanistan's Supreme Court has thrown out a blasphemy charge against outgoing Minister for Woman's Affairs Sima Samar, who is accused of insulting Islam.

Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmad Manawi said "many people" had complained about her, but the case had been dropped for lack of evidence.

Dr Samar categorically rejects hardliners' claims that she does not believe in Islamic Sharia law.

She has been one of two women serving in Hamid Karzai's interim cabinet since December, but did not keep her post in the new administration.

It is not clear whether her apparent demise as a minister is linked to the blasphemy charges.

'Afghanistan's Salman Rushdie'

On 13 June, Dr Samar was attacked in a letter printed by the newspaper Mujahed.

It called her "Afghanistan's Salman Rushdie" and implied that she was guilty of blasphemy for giving an interview in which she allegedly said she did not believe in Sharia law.

Mujahed, meaning "holy warrior", is printed by the Jamiat-e-Islami, the party of conservative former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Ms Samar has since visited the chief justice, his deputy said, and denied insulting Islam.

"She insisted that she is a believer in Islam," Mr Manawi told Reuters. "So the court has changed its mind about prosecuting her.

"We have freedom of expression, but no one has the right to slander Islam, especially one who has been in the government."

Safety fears

Dr Samar has been Afghanistan's most high-profile woman since US-backed troops forced the Taleban from power last year.

But her outspoken attacks on the way woman are treated in Afghanistan have angered many religious hardliners.

In an interview on Sunday, she said she now fears for her safety and wants protection, but none has been provided.

"I really don't know what my mistake was," she told the Associated Press.

"I am a woman, I am outspoken, I am a Hazara - that's enough, I guess."