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Afghan lawmaker calls for death of converts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An Afghan parliamentary official has called for the public execution of Christian converts from Islam following a television report that raised the suspicion of proselytizing and resulted in the suspension of two Christian aid organizations.

The report was broadcast by the little-known Afghan channel Noorin TV, described by The New York Times as an “antigovernment gadfly,” and it showed photographs purportedly of Westerners baptizing Afghans and videotapes of Afghans praying to Jesus.

A European diplomat told AFP that Noorin TV had broadcast controversial reports in the past and there might be a “hidden political agenda at a time when stirring up anti-foreign sentiment is quite fashionable in Kabul.”

Church World Service, an American organization, and Norwegian Church Aid, both of which have served in Afghanistan for more than 30 years, were asked to leave the country because of suspicions that they were involved in converting Afghans to Christianity.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for an investigation into the organizations and “strongly instructed” government officials to take “immediate and serious action” to prevent further conversions, according to a report by AFP.

The broadcasts triggered a protest by hundreds of Kabul University students May 31, and International Christian Concern, online at persecution.org, said Abdul Sattar Khawasi, deputy secretary of the Afghan lower house in parliament, called for executions.

“Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public. The house should order the attorney general and the NDS [intelligence agency] to arrest these Afghans and execute them,” Khawasi said.

Afghanistan’s constitution, which is based on sharia law, forbids proselytizing and decrees that converting from Islam to another religion is punishable by death.

“It is absolutely appalling that the execution of Christians would be promoted on the floor of the Afghan parliament,” Aidan Clay, ICC’s regional manager for the Middle East, said June 2. “Khawasi’s statement sounded a whole lot like the tyrannical manifesto of the Taliban, not that of a U.S. ally.

“American lives are being lost fighting terrorism and defending freedom in Afghanistan, yet Christians are being oppressed within Afghan borders. This comes after billions of U.S. dollars have been invested in the war effort and millions more have been given in aid,” Clay said.

“The U.S. government must intervene to protect the religious freedoms and human rights of all Afghans. The U.S. is not a mere outside bystander but is closely intertwined within Afghan policy. Intervention is not a choice but a responsibility, as Afghan policies reflect the U.S. government’s ability and commitment to secure a stable government in Afghanistan.”

ICC also reported that many Afghan Christians are in hiding, fearful of execution. Government pressure has caused some Afghans to reveal names and locations of Christian converts, the human rights organization said.

More than 1,000 aid organizations operate in Afghanistan, AFP said, and most of them are funded by Western countries. Some have been accused of preaching Christianity.

A spokesman for Afghanistan’s ministry of economy, which oversees aid groups, said the two suspended organizations were known for “doing a good job here,” according to The Times. The ministry decided on the suspensions, he said, because the television report raised suspicions and “made people very emotional and angry,” despite actual evidence, or the lack thereof, against the groups.

Even the director of Noorin TV told The Times he had no evidence that the aid organizations had been involved in proselytizing. They were only included in the report after station employees found them in a local telephone directory of nongovernmental organizations and noticed that they each had the word “church” in their names.

“Norwegian Church Aid has no mandate to influence people’s religious beliefs in any part of the world — neither in Afghanistan,” the organization said in a statement on its website May 31. “Norwegian Church Aid’s overall goal in Afghanistan is to improve living conditions for vulnerable and marginalized people through sustainable utilization of local human and natural resources in integrated agricultural development projects.”

Church World Service also denied any involvement in proselytizing.

“Our work is entirely humanitarian — meaning we are impartial, neutral, and independent,” deputy director Maurice Bloem said. “We fully adhere to and support the Red Cross/Red Crescent Code of Conduct, which mandates that NGOs do nothing to further a religious agenda.

“We have never and will never engage in any religious proselytism. Such activities are contrary to our mandate as a humanitarian organization, and we fully respect the religion of the communities we serve,” Bloem said.

Church World Service, headquartered in Elkhart, Ind., is a cooperative ministry of more than 30 Protestant and Orthodox denominations and works in more than 80 countries, the Associated Press said. Norwegian Church Aid is tied to Norway’s Lutheran state church and receives financial support from the country’s government as it operates in 125 nations.

Another spokesman for the Afghan ministry of economy told Reuters that if the organizations are found to have been involved in conversion activities, they will face Afghanistan’s judicial authorities. If not, they can resume their operations.

Reuters said NGOs remain involved in humanitarian projects ranging from health to education but some Afghans are skeptical of their motives and suspect they could be a front for proselytizing. AP said proselytizing is a hot-button issue for many Afghans who are sensitive to the influence of foreigners helping them recover from decades of war.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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