I read this in the Wall Street Journal yesterday and it made me cry.
Published on January 27, 2011 in the Wall Street Journal
By Maria Abi-Habib
KABUL—The U.S. government and some international Christian organizations are pressing Afghanistan to release two men who converted to Christianity, were arrested on apostasy charges, and could face the death penalty if convicted.
The U.S. has called on Afghan authorities to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document endorsed by Afghanistan that upholds freedom of religion. “We continue to call for their release, and frequently raise this issue with the highest levels of the government of Afghanistan, expressing our strong concern,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Afghan officials have been unapologetic. “The sentence for a convert is death and there is no exception,” said Jamal Khan, chief of staff at the Ministry of Justice. “They must be sentenced to death to serve as a lesson for others.” Apostasy is a capital crime in Afghanistan, where the constitution is based on Shariah, or Islamic law.
The effort to free the two men faces an uphill battle in Kabul. President Hamid Karzai is already bristling against foreign influence, after inaugurating parliament Wednesday under pressure from the West.
One of the detained men, Said Musa, 46 years old, converted nine years ago. He has worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross as a physical therapist in Kabul for over 15 years. After Mr. Musa’s arrest in May, his wife and six children fled the country, fearing for their safety.
The second convert, 25-year-old Shoaib Assadullah Musawi, was arrested in November in Balkh province, in northern Afghanistan, after giving a copy of the New Testament to an Afghan friend, who turned him in.
Mr. Musa, in an open letter written in his jail cell in Kabul, said he has been beaten and sexually abused in prison. “The authority and prisoners in jail did many bad behavior with me about my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mr. Musa wrote in the letter, which he addressed to supporters as well as President Barack Obama and the heads of international forces here.
Mr. Musawi also said he had been beaten and sexually abused by prison authorities and other inmates.
Officials at the Ministry of Interior denied the two inmates were sexually abused or beaten.
Neither man has legal representation. Afghan lawyers have refused to represent them, afraid of the backlash they would face for defending people charged with apostasy in this deeply conservative country.
Mr. Musa’s arrest came shortly after a popular TV host set off a wave of antiforeigner sentiment when he accused two groups, the Norwegian organization Church Aid and Church World Service of the U.S. of proselytizing, charges the two groups denied. Mr. Karzai has since expelled both organizations from Afghanistan for alleged proselytizing.
“Foreigners are only here to religiously misguide Afghans,” said the host, Nasto Nadiri, a 27-year-old whose show, called “My Homeland,” is broadcast on Noorin TV.
A group of Christian activists from around the world secretly gathers in Kabul most mornings to organize letter-writing and fund-raising campaigns on behalf of the two jailed converts.
“Our governments are so busy trying to deal with the war that they’re not looking out for regular Afghans’ rights,” said one of the activists, a French citizen.
Supporters of the two converts say the case shows the new government isn’t that much more tolerant than the Taliban regime that coalition forces toppled nine years ago.
“A coalition of nations has spent many billions to help Afghanistan come out from under a religious dictatorship and into some semblance of modernity,” said Jeff King, the president of Washington-based International Christian Concern, which is leading efforts by U.S. Christian groups to release the two men. “This case if taken on its own would point to a grand waste of time, money, and blood.”
During the Taliban regime, Christian proselytizers risked public execution, a harsh shift from the more tolerant communist regime and the royal family’s rule. “The laws need to change here and it’s up to the international community because no one else is going to do it,” said one of the activists in Kabul, a young woman from San Antonio, Texas.
If the two converts are released, they would need to seek asylum abroad, supporters said, because their lives would be at stake if they remained in Afghanistan.
In the one other recorded conversion case under the post-Taliban regime, in 2006, an Afghan convert to Christianity named Abdul Rahman was given asylum in Italy after he was deemed by Afghan courts to be mentally unfit to stand trial.
That decision followed lobbying by Western nations and rights groups. Outraged Afghan parliamentarians tried to block Mr. Rahman from leaving the country.