Sayed Musa worked 15 years for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC)-largely treating landmine victims like himself-until he was rounded up on May 31 by security officers working with the Ministry of the Interior just after taking a lunch break from his work with amputees in the ICRC's orthopedic department.
Musa (whose name is often transliterated as Mosa or Mossa) was arrested, allegedly because he is a Christian and was present in several televised videos showing Afghans praying and being baptized (see "Kill the Christians," WORLD, June 18, 2010).
After more than five months in prison, Musa, 45, an amputee himself, is scheduled to stand trial in Afghanistan on Sunday. His family's requests for him to be provided legal representation have been denied. So have requests by Musa and his family to have access to his criminal file. Last Sunday the judge refused to provide the file to a cousin of Musa's, leaving in question what exactly are the charges against him. Previously, on Nov. 7, Musa appeared in court and was notified that he-along with another jailed Christian, Ahmed Shah-would not be tried for espionage but for conversion to Christianity, or apostasy, a crime punishable by death under Sharia law.
But since then, and because of growing international news coverage of Musa's plight, those familiar with the case in Kabul suspect he could end up being tried for espionage after all, or for another offense, like some form of immorality (such as adultery)-crimes that might stir less blowback in the West but could also be punishable by death.
Westerners who have known Musa in Afghanistan for many years say they find any of these possible charges "incredible." One, who has referred handicapped children to Musa for therapy, said, "He took care with compassion and great professionalism of the amputee or handicap children we used to bring him."
Musa's professionalism drew the attention of Afghan Scene, a lifestyle magazine published in Kabul, which in its January-February 2010 issue carried a two-page photo of him working with a child who was a recent amputee (see above). The story was part of an eight-page report on the prevalence of landmines in Afghanistan. According to the latest report from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Kabul "is the most heavily mined capital city in the world." Decades of war, starting with the Soviets, have left over 10 million landmines throughout the country, the report said. And in 1996 estimates were that landmines or shells in Kabul killed one Afghan per hour.
Musa himself stepped on a landmine while serving in the Afghan Army. The injury required amputation of his right leg below the knee, requiring him to wear a prosthesis.
But neither those circumstances nor the circumstances of his arrest seem to concern his employer, the ICRC. Westerners who repeatedly contacted the organization's Protection Office in Kabul on Musa's behalf were told that the organization was "neutral" and could not intervene. ICRC officers insisted that Musa's wife communicate her wishes for intervention and file a report on his condition in writing-even though she is illiterate and had to have one of her daughters write letters for her. Without that help, she could not confirm until more than six weeks after Musa's detention that he was under arrest and in jail. An international worker, who could not be named because of the dangers in the capital for foreigners, wrote two letters to the ICRC after learning that other prisoners were physically and sexually abusing Musa (see "Deeds done in darkness," WORLD, Nov. 20), and to date has not received a response.
With the prospect of a public (and possibly televised) trial on Sunday, the case would seem to represent an opportunity for President Hamid Karzai to distance his government from the repressive tenor of the Taliban era and from extra-judicial proceedings more typical of an autocracy than the democracy Karzai has fought to portray himself as heading.
And it comes at a time when the Afghan president hopes to demonstrate that he is ready for more independence from the United States: Karzai will meet Saturday with President Barack Obama during the NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, and hopes to press Obama to scale back U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan ahead of an expected withdrawal set to begin next year.
UPDATE: On Sunday, Nov. 21, Sayed Musa again failed to appear in court, according to Western sources there to attend his scheduled trial. The judge in the case for the second time delayed the proceedings, although a follow-up date has not been announced, nor was there any further disclosure about the case being brought against him.