By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (BosNewsLife)– An Afghan man who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity has fled Afghanistan where he was released on bail after international pressure, his friends said Wednesday, April 20.
Shoaib Assadullah, 23, was detained on October 21 in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif for giving the Bible’s New Testament to a man who later reported him to local authorities.
While jailed, Assadullah said in letters seen by BosNewsLife that he was physically abused and receiving death threats from fellow inmates.
“I am under emotional pressure from being in prison. Add to that the threat of being executed, constant insults and accusations, cursing and being forced by other prisoners and by prison guards to do work for them all because of prejudice against my different beliefs and my different ethnicity,” he wrote last month from jail.
After his March 30 release from Qasre Shahi Prison in Mazar-e-Sharif, authorities initially confined Assadullah to the area, but he eventually received a passport on April 14 and was able to travel to Kabul and flee the troubled country, friends said.
They said he was unable to stay as there were worries over his safety after Muslims began protesting against last month’s burning of a Koran at a church in the U.S. state of Florida.
Several other demonstrations against the torching of what Muslims regard as a holy book left at least 24 dead, including seven United Nations employees.
No details were published about Assadullah’s current whereabouts amid security concerns.
The Netherlands was among the countries believed to have been pressuring Afghanistan to release Christian converts, including Assadullah.
Although Assadullah appeared to be out of immediate danger Wednesday, April 20, friends told BosNewsLife he had been hoping to stay in Afghanistan.
Assadullah reportedly said he wants to “continue to live and serve God in Afghanistan.”
Friends spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. He is the second Christian to be released from prison after Said Musa, another convert, who was quietly granted asylum in Europe in February.
Christian Musa was detained in May when a local television network aired footage of Afghans being baptized and participating in prayer gatherings.
The broadcast led to a nationwide crackdown against Muslim converts to Christianity, several rights groups said.
While Afghanistan’s constitution upholds freedom of religion, “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, is tried under Islamic law and punishable by death, according to experts.
Rights activists have welcomed Assadullah’s release but express concern about the future of Christian concerns in the Islamic nation.
“While the Afghan government relented on Assadullah’s behalf, there does not appear to be any change in policy, and the crackdown on Christians will continue,” said Aidan Clay of International Christian Concern, a religious rights group.
Additionally, not all countries are ready to accommodate Christian refugees from Afghanistan, he said. “Currently, several converts may face prison and death sentences after being denied asylum in India and scheduled for deportation back to Afghanistan. We still have a long battle ahead of us before the Afghan government recognizes the religious freedoms of Christians.” (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).