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Afghan Christian Faces Death Sentence If He Will Not Return To Islam

21 March 2006

Abdul Rahman (41) converted from Islam to Christianity at least 14 years ago. He is now on trial in Kabul charged with rejecting Islam.

The prosecutor says that if he returns to Islam the charges will be dropped, but if he is found guilty he will be executed: "We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty." The judge has also stated that Mr Rahman faces the death penalty if he refuses to revert to Islam as shari'a [Islamic law] proposes capital punishment for any Muslim who converts to another religion.

Abdul Rahman was denounced to the police last month by his family, with whom he was in dispute over the custody of his two daughters. He has refused to renounce his faith, despite the threat of execution. He is being held in Kabul Central Prison, one of 50 prisoners in a cell built for 15. Most prisoners have food brought to them by their families, but Mr Rahman's family do not visit him.

Afghanistan's constitution

The death sentence for adult male Muslims who abandon their faith is agreed by all schools of shari'a. Afghanistan's 2004 constitution states that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam" (Article 3) thus affirming that apostasy from Islam is punishable by death. On the other hand, the constitution's preamble affirms that the people of Afghanistan will respect the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in Article 18 guarantees the freedom to change one's religion.

Non-Muslim Afghans who have never been Muslims have a measure of freedom in that they are permitted to "exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of the law" (Article 2). This applies to Afghan Hindus, Sikhs and the one remaining member of Afghanistan's Jewish community. But it does not apply to Afghan Christians (or other non-Muslims) who have chosen to convert from Islam. [1]

A test case

The trial of Abdul Rahman is the first of its kind since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001. In 2004 five Afghan converts from Christianity were murdered either for apostasy from Islam or for spreading their faith. 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. This means that Abdul Rahman's case is the first time that Afghanistan's ambiguous constitution will be tested. It will set a precedent for the treatment of other converts from Islam to Christianity.

The judge of the Primary Court has said he will rule on the case within two months. If found guilty, Abdul Rahman will be able to appeal to the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court. The execution order would have to be signed by President Hamid Karzai.

Write to your elected representative

Please write to your elected representative to ask for urgent representations to be made to the Afghan government on behalf of Abdul Rahman. Point out that the Afghan constitution says that Afghanistan will respect the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees the freedom to change one's faith. However if Abdul Rahman is sentenced to death this would be a clear violation of the Declaration.

Point out that Christians and those of other faiths throughout the world can freely convert to Islam without fear of punishment, and ask for reciprocal freedom to be given to Afghanistan's Muslims who want to leave their faith. Urge that implementing the Islamic law of apostasy, with its death sentence for adult male Muslims who convert to another religion, is unacceptable in the twenty-first century.

It is most effective to be polite, brief and use your own words. If you do not know who your elected representative is or how to contact him or her, please refer to the Right to Justice website [2] which sets out information for those in the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Outrage that is long overdue

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, comments, "This case is rightly causing outrage in the West. What I would like to emphasise is that the death sentence for apostasy is part of mainstream Islam and always has been since the seventh century. In three of the schools of shari'a it is applied to women apostates as well as to men. An outpouring of indignation and protest on this issue from those who enjoy religious liberty in the West is long overdue. I call on political leaders and church leaders to take up the cause of Muslims who choose to embrace another faith. To pretend that freedom of conscience is not an issue in our modern world is a scandalous evasion of moral responsibility. In the face of Abdul Rahman's plight, those who have for a long time refused to accept the implications of Islam's apostasy law can surely do so no longer."

"Islam is a religion which is very active in seeking to make converts. It MUST change and learn to grant freedom to Muslims to convert to another faith without penalty. In the twenty-first century Islam can no longer continue to be a one-way street, which people may enter but can never leave."

"The kind of injustice which Abdul Rahman is suffering is one of the principal reasons for Barnabas Fund's new campaign "The Right to Justice". I urge Christians and all people of goodwill to sign our petition which calls for justice for Christian minorities [3]. Then please write to your MP, congressman or other elected representative about his case. Please pass this message on to as many people as you can. And please pray."


[1] For the full text of the Constitution of Afghanistan in English

[2] [3] Barnabas Fund's Campaign "The Right to Justice"