By BosNewsLife News Center with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BosNewsLife)– An Afghan man who was arrested for converting to Christianity and fears he may be executed, remained behind bars Wednesday, March 30, more than a month after another convert was released amid international pressure.
Shoaib Assadullah, 23, was reportedly detained October 21 in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif for giving a Bible to a man who later reported him to local authorities. While in prison, Assadullah said he was physically abused and receiving death threats from fellow inmates.
“Several times I have been attacked physically and threatened with death by fellow prisoners, especially [from members of the] Taliban [group] and anti-government prisoners who are in jail,” he wrote in a letter dated February 17 and monitored by BosNewsLife.
“These assaults on my human dignity have affected me negatively, close to the point of death,” the Afghan Christian added.
Assadullah also said he may face the death sentence for his conversion if he is summoned back to court. While Afghanistan’s constitution upholds freedom of religion, “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, is tried under Islamic law and punishable by death, according to experts.
“I am under emotional pressure from being in prison. Add to that the threat of being executed, constant insults and accusations, threats, cursing and being forced by other prisoners and by prison guards to do work for them… all because of prejudice against my different beliefs and my different ethnicity,” Assadullah reportedly wrote in a separate letter dated March 11.
In a phone conversation with a friend on March 24, Assadullah allegedly said he would not return to Islam in exchange for his freedom, but was willing to die for his Christian faith.
His ongoing detention has been condemned by rights activists who hoped he would be freed following the recent release of Said Musa, another convert. Musa, 45, was quietly granted asylum in Europe in February after what he called an “abusive” nine month imprisonment.
Christian Musa was detained in May after a local television network aired footage of Afghans being baptized and participating in prayer gatherings. The broadcast led to a nationwide crackdown against Muslim converts to Christianity, several rights groups said.
“While the United States Italy and others eventually pressured the government” of President Hamid Karzai “to release Musa after the case gathered international publicity, little diplomatic progress has been made to free a Shoaib Assadullah,”complained U.S.-based advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC).
“Afghanistan continues its anti-Christian crackdown and is far from altering any policies to protect apostates,” said ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, Aidan Clay. “The release of Musa was a great victory, but the battle carries on.The fight for religious freedom in Afghanistan is far from over,” he told BosNewsLife in a statement.
The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has said however that it remains concerned about human and religious rights in Afghanistan.
“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 added in a recent statement.
In the Netherlands, the ChristenUnie (ChristianUnion) party told Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in late January that it would only back a planned Dutch police mission in Afghanistan if the government pressured the country to release Christian converts and improve religious rights.
The ChristianUnion’s support was needed to receive a parliamentary majority for the controversial mission in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province.
In a recent parliamentary debate Rutte pledged he would do everything in his power to prevent executions of Christian converts and his cabinet announced that an expert would join the police force to investigate possible religious rights violations in the volatile nation.
Despite reported persecution, there may be as many as 10.000 Christian converts in heavily Islamic Afghanistan, according to some Christian rights activists. Other issued figures range from as few as 500 to 8,000 Christians in a country where openly expressing Christian views can reportedly lead to killings by officials, militants or family members.