By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Christians stuck in Afghanistan face imminent death after the Islamist Taliban group announced on Wednesday, the formation of a government.
The Taliban stressed they would “rule Afghanistan by Sharia,” a strict interpretation of Islam, and reportedly said Christians must convert to Islam, leave Afghanistan, or be killed
Christians with close knowledge about the situation told Worthy News that as many as thousands of Afghan Christians are at risk of being hunted down and killed by the Taliban.
Barnabas Fund, a Christian charity working in Muslim nations, warned that “Christians of Afghanistan are first-generation converts who, along with their children will be considered apostates (murtadd) from Islam.”
They are “therefore, according to Sharia law, liable to the death penalty,” Barnabas Fund told Worthy News.
Despite the dangers, thousands are believed to remain behind enemy lines in part because the United States declined to facilitate their evacuation, several sources confirmed.
Afghan Christians and others whose names appeared on U.S. government lists of qualified evacuees were being turned away at the airport in Kabul, aid groups said.
There are roughly 10.000-12,000 Christians in Afghanistan, though other groups suggest lower or slightly higher numbers, according to the latest records seen by Worthy News.
“The State Department at least at a certain point was not implementing the lists that they require the organizations to compile. Even though they have sent them multiple times,” said Faith McDonnell, director of advocacy at Katartismos Global, an Anglican mission group.
Besides Americans, the U.S. State Department gave priority to Americans and Afghan "women at risk," journalists, academics, pilots, and "minority populations," among others.
They had given the so-called Priority 2 or “P-2” designation for urgent evacuation when that was still possible.
The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, had urged the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden “to explicitly include Afghan religious minorities.”
“The Taliban’s imposition of their harsh and strict interpretation of Sunni Islam in the areas that they have taken over poses a grave threat to all Afghans of differing interpretations and other faiths or beliefs. The outlook for the country’s religious minorities is particularly bleak, with threats of Taliban persecution mounting,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza.
“As Afghans are forced to flee their homes on account of their beliefs, the U.S. government must ensure that the most vulnerable among them have a pathway to seek refuge in the United States,” the official added.
But with the U.S. military withdrawal now complete, many Christians stayed behind while the Taliban firmly imposed its Sharia law, several sources said.
The cabinet includes Interior Minister Sarajuddin Haqqani, who was reportedly on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most-wanted list for terror attacks.
“There is no doubt that Christians who remain in Afghanistan will face death for their perceived crime of leaving Islam,” Barnabas Fund warned.
It recalled that in 2006 Abdul Rahman, an Afghan ethnic Pashtun, was charged with apostasy, having converted to Christianity while working in Pakistan in 1990. The prosecutor demanded the death penalty, and Muslim clerics led violent demonstrations calling for Rahman’s execution.
The court ruled “investigative gaps” in the case, and Rahman was released from prison. He successfully sought asylum in Italy, a move facilitated by the U.S.-led coalition force. However, it is “is unlikely that any Christian in Rahman’s situation today, now that the Taliban are ruling Afghanistan, would be so fortunate,” Barnabas Fund noted.
The Taliban look set to resume their harsh rule over Afghanistan based on “a hard-line version of Islam,” confirmed Barnabas Fund International Director Patrick Sookhdeo, an expert.
That policy involves “implementing Sharia law including harsh punishments” – punishments which are believed to have been set by Allah and which cannot be revoked. They include amputation, flogging, and stoning to death, Sookhdeo and other well-informed Christians said.
Sookhdeo believes that “Islam stands alone among world religions in officially prescribing a range of severe punishments for any of its adherents who choose to leave their faith – punishments that include the death sentence.”
For Muslims, explained Sookhdeo, “apostasy is linked to a subliminal fear of Christian mission […] Christian mission is seen as a challenge to Islam that demands a resolute response, including the application of the death penalty for converts to Christianity.”
This perspective increases the danger faced by Afghanistan’s Christians, suggest several rights groups.