KABUL, Afghanistan -- An Afghan man who faced execution for converting from Islam to Christianity has been released from prison in Kabul, the deputy attorney general said today.
The announcement came after the United Nations said Abdul Rahman has appealed for asylum outside Afghanistan and that the world body was working to find a country willing to take him.
Rahman was released from the high-security Policharki prison on the outskirts of Kabul late last night, the deputy attorney general, Mohammed Eshak Aloko, said.
''We released him last night because the prosecutors told us to," he said. ''His family was there when he was freed, but I don't know where he was taken."
Hundreds of Muslims marched against a court's decision Sunday to dismiss the case against Rahman after heavy international pressure on President Hamid Karzai to drop the trial. Several Muslim clerics have threatened to incite Afghans to kill Rahman if he is freed.
Rahman, 41, was arrested last month after police discovered him with a Bible. He was put on trial last week for converting 16 years ago while he was a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan. He had faced the death penalty under Afghanistan's Islamic laws.
The case set off an outcry in the United States and other nations that helped oust the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001 and provide aid and military support for Karzai. President Bush and others insisted Afghanistan protect personal beliefs.
Karzai had to balance those concerns with religious sensibilities in Afghanistan.
Earlier yesterday, hundreds of clerics, students, and others chanting ''Death to Christians!" marched through the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to protest the court's decision to toss out the case.
''Mr. Rahman has asked for asylum outside Afghanistan," UN spokesman Adrian Edwards said. ''We expect this will be provided by one of the countries interested in a peaceful solution to this case."
No country has yet offered asylum to Rahman, said an official familiar with the case who declined to be named because of its sensitivity.
Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the State Department, said he did not believe US officials have been in touch with Rahman regarding his travel plans, which he said were being handled privately.
''This has been a sensitive matter for the Afghan people," McCormack said. ''We understand that. So we think in the coming days, in the coming weeks, as this case is resolved, that there be calm and that any differences the Afghan people, some Afghan people, may have with regard to the resolution of the case be handled without resort to violence."
While officials said the case against Rahman was dropped, prosecutors also said earlier yesterday that they were still examining whether he was mentally fit to stand trial.
''Three Afghan doctors have worked on him today," Aloko said. ''Sometimes he appears normal but at other times he looks very strange. His body twitches all the time."
Yesterday's protest of the court's decision ended peacefully about two hours after it started in Mazar-i-Sharif, police commander Nasruddin Hamdrad said.
The protesters chanted ''Death to Bush!" and ''Death to Christians!" he said. Police in riot gear stood guard but did not intervene.
''Abdul Rahman must be killed. Islam demands it," said senior cleric Faiez Mohammed, from the nearby northern city of Kunduz. ''The Christian foreigners occupying Afghanistan are attacking our religion."
He warned of the possibility of riots in the country if Rahman is released.