Global Evangelical Body: Execution Trial of Afghan Convert Illegal

The trial of an Afghan man who is facing execution for converting to Christianity is illegal and must be stopped, said the religious liberty representative of the world's largest evangelical body.

Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission, argues that the trial of convert Said Musa, 45, breaks at least three provisions of Afghanistan's 2004 Constitution.

According to Article 130 of the country's Constitution, courts can rely on Sharia law only within the limits of the Constitution and only if the "pending" case does not relate to any provisions in the Constitution or any other law.

A case qualifies as "pending" if it is registered under law. But Yogarajah points out that apostasy is not a crime recognized by the Afghan Constitution or any other statutory law.

"Article 27 of the Constitution says that no person shall be pursued, arrested or detained for an act that is not considered a crime," said Yogarajah in a statement Saturday. "So under what statutory law was Musa arrested?"

Musa, a former Red Cross worker who lost his left leg in a landmine explosion, has been detained since last May after a local TV network broadcasted images of Afghan Christians being baptized by Westerners. Musa was one of the converts to Christianity identified in the video.

The father of six has said that he was tortured and sexually abused by prison guards and inmates during his imprisonment. He is staying in the infamous Kabul Detention Center and has been denied access to a lawyer or a fair trial. Some defense lawyers have refused to represent Musa unless he reconverts while others have dropped his case after being threatened. His wife and six children fled to Pakistan after his arrest.

Musa's case is the first time that apostasy has led to near execution since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In addition to Article 130, Yogarajah also points to Article 7 of Afghanistan's Constitution that states the country's obligation to adhere to the international covenants of which it is a signer. One of these covenants include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Three clauses of Article 18 of the ICCPR state that:

• 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
• No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice
• 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

Yogarajah, however, acknowledges that Article 3 of Afghanistan's Constitution says that no law can be contrary to "the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."

"Though this contradicts earlier constitutions, but after the inclusion of Article 7 (with a pledge to abide by international conventions), in the 2004 Constitution, the interpretation of Article 3 needs to be reformulated in light of this glaring contradiction."

The WEA, which represents 600 million evangelicals in 128 countries, laments that nine years after the fall of the Taliban there is little visible change in the areas of rule of law and civil liberties.

"The calls by extremist elements for the death of an alleged apostate are understandable - but when the administration seeks the death penalty for a convert by the misuse of vague laws, it raises serious concerns," said Yogarajah. "Repression can never lead to peace in the long-run. The government must not avoid reforms for fear of a backlash by extremists."

Afghanistan is ranked No. 3 on Open Doors' World Watch List of countries with the worst Christian persecution.

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