Afghan aid workers appear in court

 The trial of the foreign aid workers in Afghanistan, charged with preaching Christianity, resumed yesterday, after a three-week gap following the terrorist attacks in America. Seven of the eight Shelter Now International workers appeared before Supreme Court Chief Justice Noor Mohammed Saqib, in a closed court in Kabul - the charity has learnt. Judge Siquib is said to have told the defendants they would be treated fairly, according to Islamic justice. He said the threat of a US military assault would not play a part in their trial. The four Germans, two Americans and two Australians were accused of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. 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, including what he said were cassettes and reading material related to Christianity. They have denied the allegations. The missing defendant, said to be an American, Heather Mercer, was absent because of illness. No further details were given about her. The defendants are being represented by two Pakistani lawyers, Atif Ali Khan and Bismillah Khan. Last week there were fears for the safety of the defendants, after they were moved to an unknown location, and the Red Cross and family members lost contact with them. The whereabouts of the 16 Afghani aid workers with Shelter Now who were also arrested three weeks ago is not known. The Taliban are refusing to say what the punishment for the foreign workers will be. Under current Taliban law the penalty for foreigners caught proselytising is imprisonment and deportation. Afghans found guilty of the same offence are sentenced to death.

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