Nothing should be surprising about this. It is built into the Afghan constitution, which stipulates that Afghanistan is an Islamic republic, and that “followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law, ” but “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.”
Therefore, Sharia is the law of the land and has the last word in defining the limits on the practice of other religions. And Sharia forbids conversion out of Islam. Muhammad himself prescribed death for apostates.
And so, here we are, after so many years, and so much blood and treasure. “Afghan Rights Fall Short for Christian Converts,” by Ray Rivera for the New York Times, February 5 (thanks to Sr. Soph):
KABUL, Afghanistan — 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.
But when Mr. Mussa said he believed in the Bible but also loved the teachings of the Koran, it was too much. “So you love the Koran and the Bible?” the commander broke in, with an incredulous tone. “What kind of love is this?”
A bearded guard thumbing Muslim prayer beads squared his shoulders and started to rise. “You want me to beat him?” he asked.
“No, no,” the commander said, calming himself and waving off the guard. “Everyone has the right to express themselves.”
Such has been Mr. Mussa’s life since his arrest for converting to Christianity nine months ago in a case that illustrates the contradictions — and limits — of religious freedom in Afghanistan, even nine years after the fall of the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s Constitution, established in 2004, guarantees that people are “free to exercise their faith.” But it also leaves it open for the courts to rely on Shariah, or Islamic law, on issues like conversion. Under some interpretations of Shariah, leaving Islam is considered apostasy, an offense that prosecutors here say is punishable by hanging.
Mr. Mussa, 46, is staring at the prospect of a death sentence.
Mr. Mussa was arrested after a television station in Kabul broadcast images that it claimed showed Westerners baptizing Afghans and other Afghans praying at private Christian meetings. The broadcast stoked Afghan fears of proselytizing brought on by the influx of foreigners since the American-led invasion in 2001. Some lawmakers publicly declared that converts should die.
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, as he has twice signed agreements with lawyers to represent him, then never seen them again.
His treatment has been better, he said, since the United States Embassy in Afghanistan intervened on his behalf about two months ago to have him transferred here to the Kabul Detention Center.
His case, meanwhile, has received little notice inside the country. Diplomats and Afghan officials 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 mean asylum for Mr. Mussa in another country. But after months of slow and intermittent measures by diplomats to free him, Christian advocates, members of Congress and legal experts are growing frustrated, not least with the larger issue of underwriting an Afghan government that has failed to ensure 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….