An Afghan Christian convert remains in jail awaiting the death sentence that an apostate is likely to receive under Afghanistan's apostasy law. Just a month prior, fellow Christian believer Said Musa was granted religious asylum in Europe.
Shoaib Assadullah, 23, was arrested on Oct. 21 last year in the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the fourth largest city in Afghanistan. He had given a Bible to a friend, who later reported him to authorities. Assadullah was locked up in the city's jail roughly the same time the international community rallied behind Said Musa.
"Diplomatic attention has now shifted on Shoaib Assadullah's freedom, yet five months have passed and little progress has been made," said Aidan Clay, International Christian Concern (ICC) regional manager for the Middle East. "The international Christian community must stand together and be a voice for Assadullah in the same way that it was a voice for Musa."
Since Musa's release in late February, watchdogs monitoring Christian persecution expressed dismay toward the Afghan government for its complacency in protecting Christian converts.
"While the Afghan government relented by releasing Said …Afghanistan continues its anti-Christian crackdown and is far from altering any policies to protect apostates," Clay explained. "Diplomatic attention has now shifted on Shoaib Assadullah's freedom, yet five months have passed and little progress has been made."
In prison, Assadullah reportedly endured physical abuse and death threats from fellow prisoners and guards. Although Assadullah has not been tried, he expects to receive the death penalty for his conversion from Islam.
On March 11, Assadullah wrote in a letter smuggled out of Qasre Shahi prison in Mazar-e-Sharif"
"I am under emotional pressure from being in prison. Add to that the threat of being executed, constant insults and accusations, threats, cursing and being forced by other prisoners and by prison guards to do work for them… all because of prejudice against my different beliefs and my different ethnicity."
Afterward on March 24, Assadullah told a friend over the telephone that he would rather die for his Christian faith than to return to Islam in exchange for his freedom, according to an ICC source.
In Afghanistan, apostasy continues to be a crime punishable by death under Islamic law, even though the nation's constitution allows religious freedom.
Although Afghanistan remains a key U.S. ally in the region, the country has poor respect for religious minority rights.
"The fight for religious freedom in Afghanistan is far from over," said Clay. "The release of Musa was a great victory, but the battle carries on."