Afghan man, Abdur Rahman, could face the death penalty in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity from Islam.

His announcement came amid news reports that two other Afghan Christians, whose names were not released, were arrested in recent days elsewhere in the country apparently on similar charges.
In addition one young Afghan convert to Christianity was allegedly beaten over the weekend outside his home by a group of six men, who finally knocked him unconscious with a hard blow to his temple. He woke up in the hospital two hours later but was discharged before morning, reported Christian news agency Compass Direct. The report, based on anonymous sources, could not be confirmed independently.
An Afghan judge said this week that Rahman, 41, had been jailed for converting from Islam to Christianity and could face the death penalty if he refused to become a Muslim again. Sharia, or Islamic law, stipulates death for apostasy. The Afghan legal system is based on a mix of civil and sharia law.


Rahman, a father of two, reportedly told a court he would not give up his faith in Jesus Christ.
"They want to sentence me to death, and I accept it," Rahman told reporters last week, "but I am not a deserter and not an infidel."

Jail officials have refused to let anyone see Rahman, despite permission granted by the country’s justice minister. "We will cut him into little pieces," Hosnia Wafayosofi, who works at the jail, told reporters as she apparently made a cutting motion with her hands. "There’s no need to see him."

The case has raised alarm overseas and in the United States. "We expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom," Bush said during a visit to Wheeling in the US state of West Virginia to talk about the war on terrorism.

"I’m troubled when I hear — deeply troubled — when I hear the fact that a person who has converted away from Islam may be held to account. That’s not the universal application of the values that I talked about. I look forward to working with the government of that country to make sure that people are protected in their capacity to worship," Bush stressed.


The president visited Kabul earlier this month in a show of support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Several religious rights groups have said they would pressure Karzai to pardon the Christian. The influential Washington DC-based International Christian Concern group with website said it had urged Afghanistan’s government to understand that even the Koran is against the death penalty for those who abandon Islam.   

It cited Surah 88:21-22 – ‘And so, (O Prophet!) exhort them, your task is only to exhort; you cannot compel them to believe’ as among examples. The trial of Abdul Rahman is the first of its kind since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 and seen as a test to Afghanistan’s ambiguous constitution.

"It will set a precedent for the treatment of other converts from Islam to Christianity," said Barnabas Fund, which investigates the persecution of Christians inside Afghanistan and other Muslim nations. In 2004 five Afghan converts from Christianity were murdered, apparently by militants, either for apostasy from Islam or for spreading their faith, the group added. "It is reported that other converts who have been formally charged by the authorities have renounced their faith in the face of the death penalty," Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife.


Christian Freedom International, another major US-based religious rights group, said the case was not an isolated insicent. "The persecution of Christians is an increasing, unintended consequence of the War on Terror," said CFI President Jim Jacobson, a former White House official. "Minority Christians face severe and growing persecution in many Islamic nations including Indonesia, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and elsewhere. This must be condemned at the highest levels wherever and whenever it occurs," he told BosNewsLife in a statement.

"The arrest and imprisonment of Mr. Rahman for converting to Christianity is a cause of major concern for all freedom-loving people, but it is the tip of the iceberg," said Jacobson. "His case is one of the few times in recent history the ‘mainstream media’ actually covered a story on Christian persecution," said Jacobson whose organization urged President Bush to intervene.

"While we want Mr. Rahman to go free, there are thousands of other persecuted Christians in Islamic nations just like him. Becoming a Christian should not be considered a crime in Afghanistan or elsewhere," he stressed.

The Washington Post newspaper quoted diplomats as saying Wednesday, March 22, they had been "assured" Rahman would not be put to death, and Afghan diplomatic sources apparently confirmed this.


"This is an extremely sensitive issue here, and an extremely serious issue back home," Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s foreign minister, said in an interview in Washington. "Every time we have a case it is like an alarm. These contradictions will not go away with one or two cases."

The release of Rahman would head off a rapidly escalating confrontation between the Kabul government and its Western military and financial backers, analysts say. Abdullah said the Afghan Embassy in Washington had received hundreds of letters, e-mails and calls from people protesting the prosecution of Rahman for converting to Christianity.

Christian groups had appealed to supporters to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan to express their opposition to what they see as the violation of freedom of conscience "and urge the immediate acquittal of Abdul Rahman." Afghanistan’s Ambassador Said T. Jawad can be reached at: Embassy of Afghanistan 2341 Wyoming Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20008. Tel: (1) 202.483.6410 Fax: (1) 202.483.6488. E-mail: (With reports from Kabul and Washington and BosNewsLife Research).


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