Detained Afghanistan Christians Facing Death Penalty

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Two Afghan Christians who were arrested for their conversion to Christianity remain behind bars despite diplomatic efforts by the United States to secure their release, a Christian rights group said Wednesday, February 23.

International Christian Concern (ICC) said it had obtained a letter smuggled out of Qasre Shahi prison in Mazar-e-Sharif, in which one Christian wrote that he may receive the death penalty for apostasy.

In a letter dated February 17, Shoaib Assadullah described his imprisonment and expressed little hope that he would be released soon. “Not only has my freedom been taken from me, but I am undergoing severe psychological pressure,” Assadullah said.

“Several times I have been attacked physically and threatened with death by fellow prisoners, especially Taliban and anti-government prisoners who are in jail.These assaults on my human dignity have affected me negatively, close to the point of death.”

GIVING BIBLE

Assadullah was arrested on October 21 in Mazar-e-Sharif for giving a Bible to a man who later reported him to local authorities.

At a court hearing on December 28, Assadullah was given one week to recant Christianity and return to Islam or else receive the death penalty.

Due to immediate foreign pressure by the U.S., Italy and other governments, Afghanistan’s Attorney General intervened by suspending the trial, ICC told BosNewsLife in a statement.

“However, Assadullah believes that he will be summoned to court again soon,” the group explained. “My case is supposed to be sent to the court shortly because the prosecutor has the right to hold a case only for 30 days,” Assadullah wrote in the letter.

“The court’s decision is most definitely going to be the death penalty for me, because the prosecutor has accused me under the Clause 139 of the criminal code which says, ‘If the crime is not cited in the criminal code, then the case has to be referred to Islamic Sharia law.’”

SECOND KNOWN PRISONER

Assadullah joined Said Musa as the second known imprisoned Christian in Afghanistan who faces charges for apostasy.

Musa was arrested in May after a local television network broadcast footage of Afghans being baptized and participating in prayer gatherings. The broadcast led to a nationwide crackdown against Muslim converts to Christianity, Afghan Christians said.

“The U.S. has sacrificed blood and treasure to ensure that human rights are upheld in Afghanistan. Yet, months of backdoor diplomacy engaging Afghanistan’s government have resulted in little more than suspending Shoaib Assadullah’s trial and transferring Said Musa to a safer prison,” said ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, Aidan Clay.

Clay said the latest developments suggest that “the U.S. has minimal leverage over Karzai’s administration or the U.S. is protecting Karzai from the repercussions he may face from extremists groups, like the Taliban, if he were to willingly let an apostate free.”

More than likely, Clay said, “politics have taken precedent over the American ideals of liberty while two Afghans rot in prison for exercising their right to choose their own faith. We urge the Obama administration to strengthen its efforts and not back down until Shoaib Assadullah and Said Musa are released.”

OBAMA DEFENDS RECORD

The administration of President Barack Obama has said however that it remains concerned about human and religious rights in the country, although it remained unclear how much was done for these specific cases.

“The United States and its international partners remain committed to helping Afghans realize their vision for a country that is stable, democratic, and economically successful, and to an Afghan Government committed to the protection of women’s rights, human rights, and religious tolerance,” the U.S. State Department said.

Last week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the administration was on a diplomatic effort to end war and extremism in Afghanistan. She said the United States would encourage Taliban members to stop fighting and join Afghan-led political negotiations — although she stressed that they must “renounce violence and al Qaeda and agree to respect both the constitution and human rights.”

- Detained Afghanistan Christians Facing Death Penalty, BosNewsLife News Center, Feb. 23, 2011 — © BosNewsLife. Published in Religion News Blog by permission.
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