Afghanistan – terrified Christians

Robaird O’Cearbhaill
Hong Kong correspondent

Before the return to Taliban power, Afghanistan was the second most persecuted country for Christians, according to Open Doors’ latest World Watch List. But now with strict, fundamentalist Taliban rules,  that is expected to get even worse. 

The Taliban’s version of Islam follows the execution of Christian converts under Sharia law, also in force in some other Muslim countries. Most, if not all Afghan Christians, are widely reported in Western religious websites as former Muslims converted to Christianity and  Christians are hiding in the country running from one place to another.   

Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) said: “Hard-won freedoms for human rights, including a relative measure of religious freedom, over the last 20 years will be revoked. We can expect that Sunni Islam will be the official religion, Sharia law will be reimposed.”

The ACN’s annual international Religious Freedom Report says that Afghanistan “has always been among the countries that most violates this fundamental right,” Heine-Geldern has repeatedly declared. “Our analysis, unfortunately, does not leave much room for hope” that it will improve. 

For Christians in the country to stay safe there are a number of challenges. No other religions than Islam are officially recognized.   Therefore secrecy for Christians is crucial. Even mobile phones with bibles or Christian messages can be discovered by Taliban patrols who demand to check phones. 

There is only one church allowed in Afghanistan, the Catholic chapel inside the Italian embassy only for foreigners to attend. This exception was made as a special favor because Italy was one of the first countries to recognize the country’s independence in the early 1920s. Underground churches exist but now even those meetings are considered dangerous if they are found out. 

There are around 200 estimated Catholics and thousands more other Christians and many, if not all, want to escape from Afghanistan.

Ali Ehsani, a Catholic refugee whose parents were killed in the 1990s for being in the Church during the first Taliban government, is campaigning for such a Catholic family. The father disappeared mysteriously and the other five in the family are desperate to escape the fear. 

“I ask please, please of both the Holy See and the Italian authority to immediately save this Christian family who are stuck there,” Ehsani told ACN. “As a Christian, I suffered in Afghanistan. I know how difficult the suffering is…the risk facing Christians in Afghanistan is like what my parents risked. My parents were killed by the Taliban.”

Ehsani has been in touch with Italian authorities and now a lawyer in Italy hopes to help this family and other Christians in Afghanistan. (Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)