By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
KABUL (Worthy News) - The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) says Afghanistan should be designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) due to the persecution of Christians and other minorities.
Since the August 2021 U.S.-led withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent take over by the Islamist Taliban group, the threat to Christians and other religious communities increased, according to the USCIRF report.
The persecution of all considered “apostates from Islam,” including Christians and other religious minorities, has increased, the USCIRF investigators said. Since mid-2021, the Taliban have said that Christians must leave, re-convert to Islam, or face death, said Christians familiar with the situation.
“By year’s end, the one known Jew and most Hindus and Sikhs had fled the country. Christian converts, Baha’is, and Ahmadiyya Muslims practiced their faith in hiding. [That was] due to fear of reprisal and threats from the Taliban and separately from the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K),” added the USCIRF.
The persecution comes “despite initial statements from the Taliban that they had reformed some elements of their ideology,” the report said.
However, “Afghans who do not adhere to the Taliban’s harsh and strict interpretation of Sunni Islam and adherents of other faiths or beliefs are at risk of grave danger,” noted the USCIRF.
“Reports indicate that the Taliban continue to persecute religious minorities. And [they] punish residents in areas under their control under their extreme interpretation of Islamic law,” the report warned.
The USCIRF said it “has received credible reports that religious minorities, including nonbelievers and Muslims with differing beliefs from the Taliban, were harassed and their houses of worship desecrated.”
“Christian converts,” the 2022 USCIRF report explained, are among those who “practice their faith in hiding. [That is] due to fear of reprisal and threats from the Taliban and separately from the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K)” group.
The report recalled that the Taliban had gone door-to-door searching for Christians.
“Christians have received threatening phone calls. And one leader of a house church network received a threatening letter in August from Taliban militants. Some Christians have turned off their phones and moved to undisclosed locations,” the USCIRF wrote.
Taliban rule also places believers at greater risk of violence and death at the hands of their neighbors, including even friends and family, according to rights investigators.
Christian aid group Barnabas Fund told Worthy News that “Western powers also share responsibility for the situation faced by Afghan Christians.”
It recalled that the NATO military alliance’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was in Afghanistan when a ‘fatwa,’ or Islamic ruling, was issued to kill those who left Islam. The fatwa under then-President Hamid Karzai “greatly increased persecution of Christians,” the group stressed.
“Western governments have also largely failed in assisting Christians who have fled for their lives from Afghanistan and need safe places to re-settle,” Barnabas Fund said.
In the report, USCIRF effectively urges the administration of President Joe Biden to expand its Refugee Admissions Program. The Program should specifically include “Afghan religious minorities at extreme risk of religious persecution,” the USCIRF explained.
Barnabas Fund said that with risks increasing, it had urged its supporters to pray “for Afghan Christians who face the constant danger of violence. And death at the hands of the Taliban and other Islamist extremists.”
And “Pray that the Lord will keep them safe from harm, provide for their needs despite the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, and sustain their faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” the group added.
For the first time, the country of 39 million people ranks 1st on the annual World Watch List of 50 nations where advocacy group Open Doors says it is most challenging to be a Christian.