Columnists > Voices

Deeds done in darkness

A prison epistle sheds light on otherwise unknown Christians suffering in secret cells

Issue: "A second chance," Nov. 20, 2010

In October Sayed Musa handed a letter to a Westerner who came to visit him several times in jail in Afghanistan. He also asked the visitor not to come back, fearing that any misstep could lead to his death.

The letter, a copy of which WORLD received in late October (and can be viewed in its entirety below, except for several people's names redacted for their protection), begins with a plea "to the international church of the world and to the President Brother [Barack] Obama and to the heads of ISAF force in Afghanistan." It describes his imprisonment since late May "due to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, saviour of the world." It also describes daily beatings and torture: "They did sexual things with me, beat me by wood, by hands, by legs, mocked me ("he's Jesus Christ"), [spit] on me. No body let me for sleep night and day." He also has received death threats.

Musa, 45, has one wife and six children. His oldest child is 8 and one is disabled. Musa himself is an amputee dependent on a prosthesis for one of his legs. Despite his own disability, he describes in the letter how a prosecutor and other Afghan judicial officials have refused to protect him and even encouraged the abuse from fellow prisoners.

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I first learned of Musa's arrest and imprisonment from a fellow Afghan Christian while in Kabul in late July (see "Fugitives,"Aug. 28, 2010)-all regarded as part of a crackdown against Afghans who have converted from Islam to Christianity.

A co-worker of Musa, worried about the repercussions of having a Christian in his workplace, reportedly turned him in to authorities, notably Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, sometimes referred to as the "secret police." Yet for over 15 years Musa (whose name is often transliterated as Said Mosa or Mossa) has worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as an orthopedic therapist, largely assisting victims of the war. That work, along with a photo of Musa helping a recent amputee, appeared in the local magazine Afghan Scene about the time of his imprisonment. Musa's friend has since left Kabul and is seeking asylum in another country, while at least one other Christian may remain in jail.

What's ensued is a lot of back-door diplomacy, as Westerners working in Kabul notified U.S. and European embassies there, members of Congress, and international organizations, including the ICRC. On Oct. 29, with the letter putting new pressure on officials, Musa was moved to another prison, where he reportedly is separated from other prisoners. We hope and pray he will be released soon and that he and his family will be allowed to leave the country.

Most seem to believe it will take a nod from President Hamid Karzai to secure Musa's release. We've been down this road before: In 2006 Christian convert Abdul Rahman, in similar captivity, was exiled to Rome following international pressure and Karzai's intervention. At that time Karzai promised that Christians would be tolerated in Afghanistan.

As Christians approach this month's International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Nov. 14, we can take little solace in these deeds done in darkness-when back-channel deals take precedence over adherence to Afghan law, while those assured that no one is watching imprison and torture an amputee. Not only were diplomats with vital interests in Afghanistan slow to respond, but the ICRC-with a mandate, according to its website, of "visiting prisoners" and "helping victims of conflict and internal violence, whoever they are"-has not visited Musa in prison nor intervened.

Further, the United States has spent millions of dollars through non-governmental organizations to reform Afghanistan's judicial system. One USAID-funded program, the Rule of Law Project, has trained court officials, judges, prosecutors, and others to follow Afghanistan's constitutional procedures-and at the provincial level where Musa was incarcerated for five months without legal representation, equal protection, or formal charges filed.

In the end, despite the back-door diplomacy, the quiet persistence of fellow Christians, and massive efforts by the United States to help Afghanistan, Musa was left to craft his own defense in a two-page prison epistle written in broken but legible, tightly lined English, and signed "Your destitute brother."
Email Mindy Belz


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