Over the weekend, I noted the trial of Muslim-born Abdul Rahman, who faces execution in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity.
ABC News is covering the story and adds new details:
Despite the overthrow of the fundamentalist Taliban government and the presence of 22,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a man who converted to Christianity is being prosecuted in Kabul, and a judge said Sunday that if convicted, he faces the death penalty.
Abdul Rahman, who is in his 40s, says he converted to Christianity 16 years ago while working as an aid worker helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Relatives denounced him as a convert during a custody battle over his children, and he was arrested last month. The prosecutor says Rahman was found with a Bible.
Human rights workers have described the case as an unsettling reminder that the country’s post-Taliban judiciary remains deeply conservative, and they have called on President Hamid Karzai to intervene. During Taliban times, men were forced to kneel in prayer five times a day, and couples faced the death penalty for sex outside marriage, for example. Reform efforts have been slow, say experts, since there are so few judges and lawyers with experience.
The U.S. State Department is watching the case closely and considers it a barometer of how well democracy is developing in Afghanistan. “Our view … is that tolerance, freedom of worship is an important element of any democracy,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. “And these are issues as Afghan democracy matures that they are going to have to deal with increasingly.”
A number of Christian nonprofit groups do humanitarian work in Afghanistan. Dominic Nutt of Christian Aid calls the Rahman case a step backward for the country, especially if Rahman is executed. Nutt, who has spent time in Afghanistan, tells ABC News “few practitioners are used to the concept of democracy and toleration … [many] are educated only in Islamic law.”
Presiding judge Ansarullah Mawlazezadah tells ABC News a medical team was checking the defendant, since the team suspects insanity caused Rahman to reject Islam.
This is deeply, deeply troubling. Junkyard Blog gets to the heart of it:
Mr. Rahman’s plight deserves attention. He deserves religious freedom. Afghans deserve freedom to woship as they please and should not be subject to the laws of a religion they don’t serve. Writing Islam into Afghanistan’s constitution—and Iraq’s—may yet undo all the good work our troops have done in both.
Write the embassy of Afghanistan:
Ambassador Said T. Jawad
Embassy of Afghanistan
2341 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Contact the State Department:
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
International Christian Concern calls on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to pardon Rahman:
The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) www.persecution.org is calling on Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai to defend religious freedom and freedom of conscience in his country by pardoning Abdul Rahman. Rahman is facing the death penalty for apostasy (rejecting Islam).
Rahman, who is about 41 years old, converted from Islam to Christianity over 16 years ago. He was turned in to authorities last month by his own family for rejecting Islam. Afghanistan’s new constitution declares that no law can be contrary to the religion of Islam, which radical Muslims say demands the death penalty for any Muslim who abandons their faith. However, Afghanistan’s constitution also demands that the state protect the liberty and dignity of all people, and affirms the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 18:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
As we do not believe the people of Afghanistan would have ratified a constitution that contradicts itself, ICC urges the government of Afghanistan to consider that Islam is not in conflict with this portion of the UN’s Declaration on Human Rights. In fact, the Qur’an itself supports freedom of conscience in view of Allah’s absolute authority as judge:
Surah 2:256 – “There is no compulsion in religion…”
Surah 16:82 – “Then, if they turn away, your duty (O Muhammad) is only to convey (the Message) in a clear way.”
Surah 42:48 – “But if they turn away (from Islam). We have not sent you as a Hafiz (watcher, protector) over them (to take care of their deeds and to recompense them). Your duty is to convey (the Message)…”
Surah 88:21-22 – “And so, (O Prophet!) exhort them, your task is only to exhort; you cannot compel them to believe.”
If even Muhammad was commanded not to carry out punishments on those who turned away from Islam, how much less should Afghanistan’s courts prosecute anyone who decides freely to convert to a different religion?
The Afghani authorities should drop this case immediately. Afghanistan has already had enough of religious extremism under the Taliban. The world is watching to see if Afghanistan has entered the 21st century. We urge Afghanistan not to return to the days of the Taliban.
Brian Mattson wrote a letter published in the Kabul Times:
I am writing to express my extreme displeasure and that of many other Americans regarding the trial of Abdul Rahman, taking place presently in Kabul. As I understand it, Mr. Rahman faces possible execution for the simple “crime” of converting to Christianity. Fundamental to any free and democratic society – for which, I might note, brave Americans have spilled blood on Afghani soil – is the freedom of individual conscience. It is intolerable that a state that wishes friendly terms with the United States of America should maintain standards of ideological totalitarianism that warrant death for merely claiming the name of Jesus Christ.
This is an injustice. Abdul Rahman must be exonerated immediately, and Afghanistan must end this barbaric practice of murdering converts to Christianity. Whatever appropriateness or popularity the practice may have seemed to possess in the 7th century is decidedly outdated.
Brian G. Mattson
Proud Citizen, U.S.A.
Meanwhile, a blogger in China has been seized.