Afghan religion today
The constitution of Afghanistan states that the country is an Islamic republic. The population is, in fact, overwhelmingly Muslim, with 99% of Afghans identifying with either Sunni (80%) or Shi’a (19%) schools of Islam.
The remaining 1% consists of Hindus, Sikhs, and others, including a tiny minority of secret Christians with estimates of its size varying widely from a few hundred to several thousand. However, the traditional position of the Afghan authorities is that all citizens are Muslim. This basic assumption has contributed to the unequal treatment of religious minorities both under law and in day-to-day practice.The traditional position of the authorities is that all citizens are Muslim.
Since the removal of the Taliban regime there have been some improvements in the treatment of minorities and some members of religious minorities who fled the country during the Taliban regime have returned. However, minorities are still threatened and they remain in a very precarious position.
Our current campaign focuses on one specific area of acute urgency: the government’s current and intensifying campaign against local and foreign Christians, the treatment of Christian converts and the use of apostasy laws to convict converts from Islam.
The apostasy laws sanctioned and enforced by Islamic shariah courts and by Afghan authorities are applied as justification for the death penalty handed to an unknown number of Muslims who have converted to Christianity. Those converts who escape execution flee the country to save their lives.
A convert named Abdul Rahman, whose case reached international media in 2006, fled to Italy after he was released on grounds of insanity under pressure from the international community. Abdul Rahman’s death sentence was not handed down by the Islamist Taliban, but by the current regime which claims to be pursuing peace, human rights and the reintegration of Afghanistan as an equal partner into the international community.
Our concern is for the right of all Afghans, whether Muslim or otherwise, to adopt a new religion of their choice in accordance with their conscience without having to leave their homes and their country in fear for their lives.
Abdul Rahman’s case is no isolated incident. It is an example of a consistent pattern of on-going events, most unfolding far from the international news media, despite the fact that the government of Afghanistan has pursued an open campaign since the spring of 2010 to find and execute all Afghan Christians (effectively all of whom are converts).
Christian Converts on Afghan TV
The current open campaign began when a privately run television channel aired a program on May 27 and 28, 2010 about converts to Christianity, broadcasting footage of what was purported to be Afghans being baptized and praying with western Christians.
Angry protests against foreigners trying to convert Muslims took place in Kabul and prominent politicians weighed in, including President Hamid Karzai whose spokesperson said he had urged his interior minister and the head of intelligence to investigate and “to take immediate and serious action to prevent [the conversion of Afghans to Christianity]”.
Abdul Attar Khawasi, Deputy Secretary for the lower house, stated in Parliament that, “Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public, the house should order the attorney general and the NDS [intelligence agency] to arrest these Afghans and execute them.” Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public, the house should order the attorney general and the NDS [intelligence agency] to arrest these Afghans and execute them
Two Christian aid groups with long-term operations in the country, identified by the television program at random because they have the word “church” in their names (Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid), were immediately suspended along with at least 11 other organizations and a commission has been formed to investigate the operations of foreign organizations.
Frequent searches of homes and businesses have taken place and at least 24 individuals believed to be converts have been arrested, as well as Muslim family members of suspected converts. Some of those in custody have been tortured in an effort to obtain information about other converts and gatherings. The government has stated its intention that any individuals found to have converted will be executed and that any organizations found to have engaged in proselytization will be punished.
This is not a new campaign that has emerged out of nowhere. In fact, OFWI has obtained copies of the arrest and execution warrants issued by state and religious authorities in a number of cases long before the broadcast. Most of the individuals involved are now in third countries.
Afghan and International Law
The current deliberate campaign by Afghan authorities and the on-going persecution by religious and civil authorities and their unwillingness to protect individual converts from attack by family members or other individuals in the community are in violation of Afghanistan’s own constitution. They are also clearly in violation of international human rights law which enshrines the right of individuals to hold and to practice the religion of their choice and to change their religion as they choose. (see sidebar)
Afghan minorities have the right to adopt Muslim beliefs. So, too, the right of Muslims to change their religious beliefs must be respected. No one, Muslims included, has the right to impose their beliefs on others and no government that truly cares about the well-being and prosperity of its people can accept such a state.
OFWI understands the challenges facing the government of Afghanistan. However, if the Afghan government wishes to build a peaceful, independent, and strong country, it is the government’s responsibility to take some difficult steps to secure the rights of all its people.
It must begin by repudiating the current anti-Christian campaign and comments made by high-level government officials about converts. It must also abolish the apostasy laws and enact clear and effective laws establishing that the harassment, persecution, and murder of individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs or a change in their religious beliefs is a crime and subject to strict punishment no matter who is involved. It must educate the public, from civil and religious authorities to average Afghan citizens, about human rights. It must also enforce human rights standards with full resolve, determination, and integrity and ensure that no one, including religious authorities, is above the law.
Please speak out and send a message to the government of Afghanistan, directly and through your own government officials, that the human rights abuses are unacceptable. The Afghan people deserve better and we must speak up for them…
Click here to send a letter of petition to the Afghan government
The 2004 constitution of Afghanistan
The sacred religion of Islam is the religion of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Followers of other faiths shall be free within the bounds of law in the exercise and performance of their religious rituals. (Emphasis added)
Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden.
Persecution of human beings shall be forbidden. No one shall be allowed to or order torture, even for discovering the truth from another individual who is under investigation, arrest, detention or has been convicted to be punished. Punishment contrary to human dignity shall be prohibited. (Emphasis added)
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
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. (Emphasis added)
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. (Emphasis added)