An Afghan man who risks execution for converting from Islam to Christianity said he is fully aware of his choice and is ready to die for it, according to an interview published Sunday in an Italian newspaper.

"I am serene. I have full awareness of what I have chosen. If I must die, I will die," Abdul Rahman told the Rome daily La Repubblica, which sent him questions through a human rights worker who visited him at a Kabul detention facility.

Authorities have barred journalists from seeing the 41-year-old defendant.

"Somebody, a long time ago, did it for all of us," he added in a clear reference to Jesus Christ.

Rahman is being prosecuted under Afghanistan's Islamic laws for converting 16 years ago while working as a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

President Hamid Karzai has been under mounting pressure from foreign leaders to free Rahman, who faces a possible death sentence for alleged apostasy. But Afghan clerics have questioned Karzai's authority to order Rahman's release and have warned of a possible revolt if he tries.

Diplomats have said the Afghan government is looking for a way to drop the case without inflaming tension. Authorities said Rahman is suspected of being mentally ill and would undergo psychological examinations to see whether he is fit to stand trial.

"I never thought it would end this way," Rahman was quoted by the Italian newspaper as saying. "But I am ready to face the consequences."