WASHINGTON (BP)–Said Musa, an Afghan man who was arrested in May and threatened with execution for becoming a follower of Jesus, has been released from prison after an international outcry on his behalf.
A Southern Baptist religious liberty leader expressed relief at Musa’s release but urged continued efforts on behalf of Shoaib Assadullah, another Christian prisoner in Afghanistan who remains under threat of execution.
“We rejoice and give thanks that Said Musa has been released and he’s safely out of the country,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who wrote a letter Feb. 21 to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Musa’s behalf.
“We continue to pray for the release of Shoaib Assadullah, who is facing similar charges with similar penalties,” Land said.
“We also look forward to the day when people who exercise their God-given right to change their faith and worship according to the dictates of their own consciences don’t have to flee their native country in order to keep from being executed,” Land stated.
News of Musa’s release came Feb. 21 in a telephone call from an official with the U.S. embassy in Kabul, confirming that Said Musa was released and safely out of the country, according to the human rights organization International Christian Concern.
“We cannot be more thrilled about Said Musa’s release,” Aidan Clay, ICC regional manager for the Middle East, said in a press statement. “It has been encouraging to see the international community, including churches, reporters and government officials in Europe and North America, work together for the common goal of freeing Said. Many sleepless nights, prayers and tears have paid off.
“However, the battle has not yet been won. Shoaib Assadullah is still imprisoned in northern Afghanistan and fears the death penalty,” Clay added. “We still have a long road ahead before we witness religious freedom in Afghanistan. We must remain vigilant and keep the public and diplomatic pressure alive by continuing to shout with one voice for Shoaib Assadullah until together, we can also celebrate his release.”
Assadullah was arrested for giving a Bible to a man who later reported him to authorities, according to the International Christian Concern statement. In a letter dated Feb. 17 and smuggled out of his cell in Mazar-e-Sharif, Assadullah expressed fears that his execution is imminent.
“The court’s decision is most definitely going to be the death penalty for me, because the prosecutor has accused me under the Clause 139 of the criminal code which says, ‘If the crime is not cited in the criminal code, then the case has to be referred to Islamic Sharia law,'” he wrote, according to the ICC statement.
A Feb. 13 letter from Musa expressed great courage in the face of death threats, ICC said.
“Musa described a visit by representatives of the U.S. and Italian Embassies offering him asylum. According to the letter, after the foreign representatives left the room, Musa was visited by three Afghan officials who told him that he would be released within twenty-four hours if he wrote a statement declaring that he regretted his conversion to Christianity,” ICC recounted. The ICC statement quoted Musa as replying: “I laughed and replied, ‘I can’t deny my Savior’s name.’ Because my life is just service to Jesus Christ and my death is going to heaven [where] Jesus Christ is. I am a hundred percent ready to die. They pushed me much and much. I refused their demands.”
Land was one of a growing number of evangelical leaders who were speaking up for Musa, 46, who became a Christian eight years ago and was arrested in May 2010 after a TV program showed him and other Christians worshiping together. Denny Burk, dean of Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., helped launch a Twitter campaign on Musa’s behalf that resulted in thousands of Tweets and re-Tweets. Other Christian leaders with large Twitter followings, such as Johnny Hunt, Ed Stetzer, John Piper, Rick Warren and Russell Moore, also spoke up for Musa.
Musa, a former member of the Afghan Army who lost a leg when he stepped on a landmine, became intrigued by Christianity during Afghanistan’s civil war when two foreign women braved gunfire to help a neighbor dig through the rubble of his home looking for family members after his home was bombed by a jet fighter, according to media reports.
“When I saw these women and their compassion for my people, it affected me,” Musa told The New York Times. “I asked people who they were and they said they are the followers of Jesus Christ.” Musa located an Afghan Christian in his neighborhood, received a copy of the New Testament and eventually was baptized.
Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution guarantees citizens the freedom to exercise their faith, but it also says the courts may rely on Islamic Sharia law, strict versions of which consider leaving Islam an offense punishable by death. The Afghan government has not executed anyone for religious crimes since the Taliban’s fall, but radical elements in Afghan society exert great pressure on the government to punish people who criticize or leave Islam.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor and senior writer Mark Kelly.