KABUL — Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai is taking a personal interest in the case of two Western aid organisations at the centre of a controversy over Christian proselytising, his spokesman said Tuesday.
The Afghan government has suspended two Christian aid groups after a TV show reported they were proselytising, which is illegal in the devoutly Islamic country.
Christian proselytising photo shown in the parliament.
The organisations -- Norwegian Church Aid and Church World Service of the United States -- were being investigated after Noorin TV reported they had converted Afghan Muslims to Christianity, the economics ministry said.
Converting from Islam to another religion is punishable by death under Afghan law. The Afghan constitution is based on traditional sharia law, which strictly bans religious conversion.
"The president of Afghanistan personally is interested in following this issue himself," Waheed Omar told reporters.
"This has created an uproar and from the president's point of view this is a serious issue and needs investigation."
Karzai had summoned both his interior minister and the head of country's spy agency on the matter, and "strongly instructed them to take immediate and serious action to prevent this phenomenon," he said.Kirkens Noedhjelp or Norwegian Church Aid, which has worked in Afghanistan since 1979, released a statement on Monday rejecting the accusations and saying it was working to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable Afghans.
A spokesman for the economy ministry, which oversees the activities of non-government organisations in Afghanistan said the US organisation also denied the allegations.
There are more than 1,000 aid organisations operating in Afghanistan, mostly funded by Western countries, and some have been accused of preaching Christianity.
The little-known Afghan channel Noorin TV showed footage of men it said were reciting Christian prayers in Farsi and being baptised.
The television station said the men were Afghans who had converted to Christianity thanks to the proselytising efforts of the two groups.
In parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a deputy of the lower house, called for Muslim converts to Christianity to be executed.
"Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public, the house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them."
Qazi Nazir Ahmad, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat, said killing a converted Muslim was “not a crime”.
In early 2003 a 41-year-old Afghan was granted asylum by Italy after facing a death sentence for converting to Christianity.
Abdul Rahman became an international cause celebre after he was charged with rejecting Islam and held in a high security prison outside Kabul.
A European diplomat told AFP that Noorin TV had broadcast controversial reports in the past and believed there was a "hidden political agenda at a time when stirring up anti-foreign sentiment is quite fashionable in Kabul".