AFGHANISTAN: Authorities block lawyer from visiting jailed Christian

Said Musa Said Musa, an Afghan Christian facing apostasy charges punishable by death, is without legal representation after the authorities blocked a foreign lawyer’s attempt to visit him in prison.

The charge against Said Musa (45) is that he converted from Islam. He has been in prison since May 2010. Said has been a Christian for eight years. An amputee with a prosthetic leg, he worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent (ICRC) for 15 years, fitting patients for prosthetic limbs. (He stepped on a landmine while in the Afghan Army.) Said is married with six young children.

A Christian lawyer who requested anonymity went to Kabul in late November to represent Said. The authorities denied him access to the prisoner and his indictment file. According to Afghan law, Said is entitled to see a copy of the indictment and review the evidence against him, but he has been denied both rights.

“If a man is not entitled to define his own beliefs, and to change those ideas, under the existing constitutional order of Afghanistan, then how is this government more moral than the Taliban’s?” the lawyer wrote in an email to Compass.

Arrested at the same time and facing the same charge is another Afghan, Ahmad Shah, but Said’s letters from prison and other sources indicate that Shah is a government informant posing as a Christian. Shah has denied that he is a Christian, but the prosecutor claims that there is proof against him.

Said appeared before a judge on 27 November, without prior notice, shackled and chained to Ahmad Shah. Rejecting the case file as deficient, the judge sent it to the attorney general’s office for corrections. The Christian lawyer has deduced that the file was missing a formal indictment and incriminating evidence. No one knows when the next court hearing will take place. Said is still looking for an Afghan lawyer who will agree to defend him in court.

Said’s problems began in spring 2010. He and others claim that Ahmad Shah sent images of Christians worshipping to Afghanistan’s most popular broadcaster, Noorin TV, which showed them in May. The hour-long show sparked protests against Christians and a heated debate in parliament. In early June, the deputy secretary of the Afghan Parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, called for the execution of converts from Islam.

Said was concerned about the outcry against Christians and went to his employer, ICRC, to request leave on the morning of 31 May. The authorities arrested him after he left the building, and his family could not locate him for nearly two months. He suffered sexual abuse, beatings, mockery and sleep deprivation. In November, after diplomatic efforts, the authorities transferred him to Kabul Detention Centre in the Governor’s compound, since when there has been no report of mistreatment.

“It is the greatest shame on a family, clan and the nation, that someone would consider to leave Islam,” the Christian lawyer explained to Compass Direct. Many converts to Christianity have left the country, and many have been arrested, but the exact figures are unknown. Estimates of the number of Christians in Afghanistan range from 500 to 8,000.

SECOND CHRISTIAN IN PRISON

Another Afghan Christian in prison for his faith, Shoib Assadullah (25), was arrested on 21 October for giving a New Testament to a man who turned him in. Shoib is in a holding jail in Mazar-e-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan. He has been a Christian for about five years.

Shoib’s family has been unsuccessful at procuring his release despite bribing officials, and no lawyer will defend him. His family members have tolerated his new faith, but they are not pleased with it, and recently his father disowned him.

Shoib has said that he is not frightened and that his faith is strong, but that he is desperately missing having a Bible. He has asked for prayer that Afghan believers would stay strong in their faith.

Said and Shoib both face apostasy charges punishable by death under sharia (Islamic law), which is still applied in Afghanistan. The constitution says that Islam is the “religion of the state”. It provides a measure of religious freedom under Article 2, but Article 3 states that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Conversion from Islam is understood to contravene the tenets of Islam.

Afghanistan has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stipulating religious freedom, including the freedom to change faith. Conditions for Christians have deteriorated in the last year. (Agence France-Presse, Compass Direct News)