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U.S. Lobbies Afghanistan to Release Christian Converts

ICC Note:

“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.”

By Maria Abi-Habib

1/27/2011 Afghanistan (The Wall Street Journal) – 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.

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.

“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.

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