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Christians facing death in Afghanistan denied refuge

Country/Region: Afghanistan, South and East Asia

We believe that if we return to our country, our lives will be in danger of death. Afghan converts Mohammad and Aisha

Barnabas Fund is calling for urgent intervention on behalf of six converts from Islam to Christianity who are facing execution for apostasy in Afghanistan after being refused refugee status by UNHCR in India.

Rahimullah and Rita, who have three children, Mohammad and Aisha, who have two children, and sisters Shazia and Sunita fled Afghanistan to India, where their applications for refugee status have been closed. They now face deportation to Afghanistan, where they risk arrest and possible execution for apostasy under the country's sharia-based law.

In their appeal application to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Rahimullah and Rita wrote:

As we are converted and baptized Christians, we are deeply fearful for our lives. In the light of the situation in Afghanistan, we will be sentenced to death and executed by the government or we could be stoned and burned by the people.

Barnabas Fund is campaigning on behalf of these six Christians and appealing for others to write to the UNHCR in support of their cases.

Certain danger

Images of four of the six Christians' baptisms, which took place in 2008, were among several shown on national Afghan TV last May. The footage led to a frenzied anti-Christian response, including public demonstrations and government threats; Abdul Sattar Khawasi, Deputy Secretary of the Afghan Lower House of Parliament, openly called in parliament for the public execution of the Afghan Christians shown in the TV programme. They are clearly identifiable from the pictures, which were posted on the internet and shown on various TV channels.

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A crackdown on Afghan converts to Christianity ensued: 26 people were arrested, while many others were forced to flee the country. Said Musa, whose case has been widely publicised, was among those detained. Reports are today emerging that he may now have been released. Another convert Shoaib Assadullah, is in prison facing the death sentence for apostasy. This underlines the real and imminent danger for the six asylum-seekers if they are returned to Afghanistan.

In a letter dated 17 February that was smuggled out of the prison where Shoaib is being held, he speaks of his expectation that the court will "most definitely" sentence him to death and describes the abuse he is enduring behind bars:

I undergoing severe psychological pressure. Several times I have been attacked physically and threatened to death by fellow prisoners, especially Taliban and anti government prisoners who are in jail.

Barnabas Fund launched a petition and letter-writing campaign to save Said and other Afghan converts to Christianity earlier this month.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:

The cases of these six dear brothers and sisters highlight the fact that Afghan converts to Christianity are safe neither inside nor outside the country. It is a disgrace that they have been denied refuge when their very lives depend on it.

I am greatly moved by Shoaib's letter, which demonstrates his tremendous courage in the face of the death penalty. It underlines the urgent need for the international community to press for his release, and for the Afghan government to allow true religious freedom.

Act now

Please write to UNHCR in support of Rahimullah, Rita, Mohammad, Aisha, Shazia and Sunita's refugee appeals. We have prepared a template that you may wish to use as a basis for your letter.

Please Pray:
  • That the UNHCR officials who read the applications will realise the grave danger these six Christians will be in if sent back to Afghanistan and therefore grant their appeals for refugee status in India.
  • That the Lord will give Rahimullah, Rita, Mohammad, Aisha, Shazia and Sunita peace and comfort as they await a decision.
  • For other Afghan converts to Christianity whose lives are under threat. Pray for their deliverance and protection.
  • For the international community to address Afghanistan's attitude to converts from Islam and work for effective change.
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