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Afghan Rights Fall Short for Christian Converts

ICC Note:

“We cannot justify taxpayer dollars going to a government that allows the same restrictions on basic human rights that existed under the Taliban,” The New York Times quotes a letter from two members of Congress to Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry in Kabul urging stronger action to free Afghan Christian Said Musa who has been imprisoned nine months for his faith in Christ.

By Ray Rivera

2/5/2011 Afghanistan (New York Times) – The jail commander had remained silent as the prisoner, Sayed Mussa, told a reporter about his journey from Islam to Christianity: his secret baptism nine years earlier, his faith in Jesus Christ and the promise of heaven.

Mr. Mussa, 46, is staring at the prospect of a death sentence.

Since his arrest, Mr. Mussa said, guards at one jail slapped him and beat him with sticks. At another, two prisoners who learned of the charges against him assaulted and raped him, urged on by Taliban inmates.

“The Taliban were saying, ‘He is an infidel, he is filthy and he needs to be killed,’ ” he recalled.

Mr. Mussa has not seen his wife and six children in months, since they fled to Pakistan for their safety. He is not even sure if he has a lawyer; he signed agreements with two, then never saw them again.

His treatment has been better, he said, since the American Embassy intervened on his behalf about two months ago to have him transferred here to the Kabul Detention Center.

Diplomats and Afghan officials, meanwhile, have tried to keep it out of the spotlight, fearing that publicity, particularly from the local news media, could set off an outcry from hard-line conservatives, endangering him and other Afghan Christians.

Embassy officials have been quietly trying to find a political solution that could allow Mr. Mussa asylum in another country. But after months of intermittent measures by diplomats to free him, Christian advocates and members of Congress are growing frustrated, not least with the larger issue of underwriting an Afghan government that has not ensured religious freedom.

“We cannot justify taxpayer dollars going to a government that allows the same restrictions on basic human rights that existed under the Taliban,” two Republican members of Congress, Representatives Trent Franks of Arizona, co-chairman of the International Religious Freedom Caucus, and Doug Lamborn of Colorado, wrote in a letter last fall to Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, urging stronger action.

A senior prosecutor closely involved in Mr. Mussa’s case, however, suggested that officials were feeling the weight of international pressure.

“Based on Shariah law, whoever converts from Islam should be sentenced to death,” said the prosecutor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But based on international agreements that Afghanistan has accepted and agreed with, Sayed Mussa has a chance to be released.”

An ethnic Hazara, a minority group long oppressed in Afghanistan, Mr. Mussa grew up a Shiite Muslim in the central highlands around Bamian Province. He lost his leg to a land mine as a young man serving in the army of the Soviet-backed government. For the last 16 years before his arrest, he worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross, helping amputees get fitted with artificial limbs.

He became intrigued by Christianity, he said, when a jet bombed a neighbor’s home in Kabul where he lived during the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal. The home’s owner, an impoverished porter with eight children, was at the market when the bomb hit, killing seven of his family members. But not long after, two foreign women drove up and helped dig through the rubble amid gunfire from factional forces.

“When I saw these women and their compassion for my people, it affected me,” he said. “I asked people who they were and they said they are the followers of Jesus Christ.”

Mr. Mussa, meanwhile, longs to see his wife and children again. He wants either to be freed or to go to court, even if it means his execution. “Staying in here,” he said, “is like dying every minute.”

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