and Sixteen Afghan aid workers, who face possible execution for allegedly spreading Christianity in war ravaged Afghanistan. The Sunday visit was the first contact the prisoners had with the outside world, since being detained three weeks ago under the Taliban regime’s strict interpretation of Islamic law.
No independent information was immediately available on the foreigners’ condition, although officials of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban have said repeatedly that they are being well treated. The ICRC visit came as relatives of the foreigners and Diplomats from the United States, Germany and Australia prepared to arrive in Kabul, after they unexpectedly received visas.
Syed Rehmatullah Hashmi, the Taliban’s ambassador-at-large, told reporters that the envoys and relatives had yet to arrive in the Afghan Capital, but that they could be there later Sunday (August 26.)
Diplomats have attempted several times to visit the aid workers in Afghanistan, where no western nations have a diplomatic presence as they do not recognize the radical Islamic Taliban as the legitimate leadership.
The envoys applied for a second round of visas Thursday after the Taliban initially denied their requests for extended visas. They returned from Kabul on a United Nations flight last week without having seen the detainees.
A breakthrough came after the parents of two jailed American women sent a letter to the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, asking to be granted "access to their daughters on compassionate grounds," Voice of America (VOA) has reported.
Taliban officials announced that the parents of two jailed American women had "apologized" on behalf of their children for any actions that might have offended the Islamic rulers. But a spokesman at the Taliban Embassy in Pakistan reportedly said the letter, in which the parents also ask to free their children, "did not mention anything about preaching Christianity."
Taliban officials have also said they will continue their investigation into the activities of the 24 aid workers, who are all staff members of the German based "Shelter Now" Christian charity. After raiding its office and arresting the staff August 5th, religious police have shown media Christian material as part of what officials described as "evidence collected against the aid workers."
Analysts say there it little the West can do to demand the release of Shelter Now staff members, as the country is already internationally isolated and imposing more sanctions would only increase the suffering of Afghanistan’s impoverished people.
Earlier this months dozens of children were briefly detained for allegedly receiving "Christian teaching" from Shelter Now staff members. The organization, denied it was involved in evangelizing, saying that it was teaching street children simple crafts to earn a little income. In addition two of its four roofing beam factories were reportedly searched by Taliban representatives who allegedly looted equipment worth 45,000 dollars, and detained workers for about 24 hours.
Shelter Now estimates that its four factories in Afghanistan produced over 130,000 low cost roofing beams since 1992, which it says enabled more than 20,000 Afghan refugees to rebuild their homes that were destroyed during two decades of wars.
The regime has been criticized for its alleged involvement in human rights abuses, especially toward minority religions and women. In a further sign of tensions, Taliban officials warned Sunday that diplomats and aid workers will not longer be allowed to use the Internet, which they suggested is another tool to spread Christianity and information against the country.