Yesterday, Afghanistan's Taliban rulers imposed the death penalty for anyone who converts from Islam to another religion.
Any non-Muslim found trying to win converts will also be killed, Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar said on Taliban-run Radio Shariat.
Mr. Omar accused followers of other faiths - particularly Christians and Jews - of trying to convert Muslims and seeking to demonize the harsh brand of Islam practiced by the Taliban.
"The enemies of Muslims are trying to eliminate the pure Islamic religion throughout the world," Omar said.
The Taliban enforces a strict interpretation of Islamic law in Afghanistan. Women are barred from working, and the Taliban has stopped all schooling for girls beyond age 8.
Men are required to wear beards and pray in mosques without fail, while women must wear head-to-toe coverings called burqas. Most forms of entertainment have been outlawed, including television and any music other than religious songs.
Yesterday, Omar also announced a five-year jail term for bookstore owners found selling material critical of Islam and describing other religions. Despite the ban on evangelism, followers of other faiths have been allowed to continue practicing their religions.
A large Sikh and Hindu community worships at several temples in Kabul, the capital. And a lone Jewish rabbi still lives in the city, although most Jews left when the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
The Taliban controls about 95 percent of the nation. The opposition, led by ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani, rules the rest.
Fighting between the two sides has raged in recent weeks in Bamiyan province, where the Taliban said Sunday it regained control of the key city of Yakaolong.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society