Christian teacher facing execution in Syria after refusing to give school to Islamist group

Turkish soldiers stand guard near the Turkey Syrian border on October 10, 2019, in Akcakale, Turkey. The military action is part of a campaign to extend Turkish control of more of northern Syria, a large swath of which is currently held by Syrian Kurds, whom Turkey regards as a threat. |

The headmaster of a school in the city of Afrin in northern Syria has been accused of apostasy and arrested by an Islamist group loyal to Turkey, which wants to punish him for refusing to convert the school into an Islamic educational institution, according to reports.

Forty-year-old Radwan Muhammad, a Kurdish Christian who teaches English, is being held at the headquarters of Failaq Al-Sham, an Islamist group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, in Afrin, according to the U.K.-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

“We are extremely worried about Radwan’s life and wellbeing," Pastor Nihad Hassan, who leads a Kurdish church in Beirut, Lebanon, told CSW. "[T]hey may execute him.”

The group had ordered Muhammad to turn over his school so they could turn it into an Islamic educational institution, but the Christian teacher refused, saying, “I will hand you the building in one case only: if Jesus Christ comes down to earth again,” CSW reported. He was arrested on July 30.

Afrin was taken over by the Turkish army in March 2018.

Hassan noted, “Those Islamist groups and their Turkish masters are walking in the footsteps of IS (Islamic State). In fact, many of their fighters are former IS and al Qaeda members.”

CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas called for his immediate release.

“We also urge the Turkish authorities to intervene by restraining the various Islamist militia groups functioning under its command, and to immediately bring to an end all forms of violence and human rights abuses in the areas they control," Thomas said.

Failaq Al-Sham functions in northwest Syria under the Syrian National Army, an umbrella group for different Islamist factions under direct Turkish command.

“Turkish forces have been giving Syrian armed groups free rein to commit serious human rights abuses against civilians in the Syrian city of Afrin,” human rights group Amnesty International said earlier this month after an investigation into life in Afrin under Turkish military occupation.

“Afrin residents are enduring widespread human rights violations, mostly at the hands of Syrian armed groups equipped and armed by Turkey,” Amnesty found. “Violations include arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances and confiscation of property and looting to which Turkey’s armed forces have turned a blind eye. Some of these groups, and Turkish armed forces themselves, have also taken over schools, disrupting the education of thousands of children.”

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