ISTANBUL After intense diplomatic pressure last week, authorities released Afghani Christian Said Musa, who had been in prison for nearly nine months on charges of apostasy (leaving Islam), punishable by death under Islamic law. Another convert, however, remains in prison.
A source in Afghanistan told Compass that the 46-year-old Musa (alternately spelled Sayyed Mussa) was released last week and had left the country on Monday (Feb. 21), but the date of his release was not clear.
Musa had written a series of letters from his prison cell, the last one dated Feb. 13, according to Compass sources. In that letter Musa, an amputee and a father of six, said that representatives of embassies in Kabul visited him and offered him asylum.
After the representatives left, according to the letter, Musa was taken to another room where three Afghani officials tried to convince him to recant his faith. They promised to release him from prison within 24 hours if he would do so. He refused and was sent back to his cell.
"I told them I cannot [follow] Islam," he wrote in his letter. "I am Jesus Christ's servant. They pushed me much and much. I refused their demands."
Details of Musa's release remained confidential in order to protect him and his family, who still remain in danger, sources said.
A source in Afghanistan close to Musa praised the efforts of the international community.
"We feel that the release reveals that when many, many people come together trying to enforce justice, in some case like for our friend Said Musa, good things happen, even though it looks impossible," said the source on the condition of anonymity. "The voices of the people outside Afghanistan who put pressure on the Afghan government and on the international diplomats have been heard."
When local churches and international bodies advocate for the persecuted in faith, he added, "they have the power to change things."
The source expressed frustration, however, over the slow process for releasing Musa, who had been in prison since May 31, 2010, and over lack of human rights and religious freedoms in Afghanistan overall.
"All this battle during nine months against the government reveals a worse situation than ever about freedom of religion," said the source. "It is very sad and discouraging, after almost 10 years of help from the international community."
Authorities arrested Musa and other Christians after the country's most popular broadcaster, Noorin TV, in May broadcast images of Afghani Christians worshiping.
The broadcast appeared on an Afghani TV show called "Sarzanin-e-man," or "My Homeland," hosted by Nasto Nadiri, 27, an outspoken opponent of the government and a parliamentary hopeful. Noorin TV station is opposed to the government and does what it can to "embarrass" it, a source said.
The broadcast put in motion the events that got Musa arrested, according to sources. The hour-long TV show sparked protests throughout the country against Christians and a heated debate in parliament. In early June, the deputy secretary of the Afghan Parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, called for the execution of converts from Islam.
During that time many converts to Christianity left the country, according to sources, and many were arrested, though the exact number is unknown.
Musa was concerned about the public outcry against Christians and went to his employer, the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, where he fitted patients for prosthetic limbs, to request personal leave the morning of May 31. Authorities arrested him after he left the building, and his family could not locate him for nearly two months.
Before being transferred to Kabul Detention Center in the Governor's Compound in November 2010, Musa had suffered sexual abuse, beatings, mockery and sleep deprivation because of his faith in Jesus in the first months of his detention.
According to the U.S. Department of State, estimates of the size of the Christian community in Afghanistan range from 500 to 8,000.
Still in prison is Shoib Assadullah, an Afghani Christian who has been in a holding jail in a district of Mazar-e-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, since October. A recent letter from him suggests that his life is in danger.
Assadullah was arrested on Oct. 21 for giving a New Testament to a man who reportedly turned him in to authorities.
"Not only has my freedom been taken from me, but I [am] undergoing severe psychological pressure," Assadullah wrote in a letter dated Feb. 17. "Several times I have been attacked physically and threatened to death by fellow prisoners, especially Taliban and anti-government prisoners who are in jail."
Assadullah became a Christian about five years ago. During his imprisonment, last month his mother died due to the stress of her son being in prison, according to the Christian.
Assadullah, who has no legal representation, has also been pushed to recant his faith. Authorities have tried to build a case that he is insane in order to explain his change of faith and possibly to justify a more lenient sentence for him, sources have said.
"My case is supposed to be sent to the court shortly, because the prosecutor has the right to hold a case only for 30 days," Assadullah wrote. "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 the Islamic sharia law.'"
Sources said that there are diplomatic efforts underway for the secure release of Assadullah.
In his letter, Assadullah wrote that freedom is a gift from God.
"This means that we have to respect human freedom and dignity," he wrote. "Clause 24 of Afghan Constitution says, 'Human freedom and dignity is an unalterable right. The government is committed to respect and protect human freedom and dignity.'"