Australia says Taliban's detainees are innocent
CANBERRA, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Australia on Tuesday rejected accusations that two Australians among 24 aid workers arrested by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban were in Kabul to spread Christianity and demanded immediate access to them.
The Australian man and woman were taken into detention by the Taliban, along with four Germans, two Americans and 16 local aid agency staff and charged with trying to convert Muslims to Christianity -- a crime punishable by death in Afghanistan.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said they were innocent and should be released. "It is my view that these people are there as aid workers and they are not there to spread Christianity. They are just hard-working and well-meaning people," Downer told reporters.
"They may be Christian but they are not there to undermine Islam and spread Christianity. They are there to help with problems of poverty in Afghanistan."
The aid workers, arrested in the capital Kabul, all worked for Shelter Now International, which describes itself as a Christian relief agency whose workers are "instruments of God's love for all."
The agency has been running relief projects for Afghan refugees in Pakistan for the last 16 years and opened offices inside Afghanistan last year.
Downer said Australia was using its high commission in Pakistan to negotiate with Taliban officials based there as neither Australia nor the Taliban have consular operations in each other's country.
"It's not going to be easy but there are a number of other governments whose nationals have been taken as well so we will be working with them very closely," Downer said.
"In so far as the Pakistanis will be able to help us, we will be grateful for that and we encourage them to provide assistance to ensure that this problem is resolved."
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