For more than a decade, the second Sunday in November has been commemorated in churches worldwide as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. This year it is also the day that Sayed Musa, an Afghan convert from Islam to Christianity, has been scheduled to stand trial.
Afghan government officials announced earlier this week that they have scheduled that court date for Musa's case-which WORLD has been covering (see "Fugitives," Aug. 28, 2010, and "Deeds done in darkness," Nov. 20, 2010, which includes a letter written by Musa pleading for help)-even though the charges and his legal representation remain in doubt.
According to Westerners closely following his case in Kabul, Musa (whose name is often transliterated as Mosa or Mossa) is likely to be charged with espionage and with conversion to Christianity, or apostasy-crimes that may be punishable by death under Islamic law. The court session may be televised, officials have said, and it is likely that Musa will be asked to renounce his faith.
Musa was arrested in late May as part of a crackdown against Afghan converts to Christianity that followed a television broadcast of several baptisms. He has been held in a prison in Kabul under worsening conditions and has been subjected to daily beatings, torture, and sexual abuse. Court-appointed legal counsel, all Muslims, have refused to take his case because he is considered an apostate. Officials from the International Committee on the Red Cross, where Musa worked for 15 years, visited him twice, and he has received other Western visitors, including representatives from the U.S. embassy. They confirmed that Musa had been tortured and successfully pressured the Afghan government to move him to another prison, away from other prisoners. That took place Oct. 29.
But diplomatic pressure has so far failed to secure Musa's release or the dropping of charges-despite Afghanistan's avowed interest in being a legitimate member of the international community. The Karzai government is a signatory of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, which calls for freedom of religion and equal access to "a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal." It also states that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment."
Afghanistan's constitution, enacted with U.S. assistance in 2003, also states in Article 2: "Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law."
Musa, 45, is married and the father of six children. His oldest child is 8 years old and one is disabled. Musa himself is an amputee. His case comes to trial as radical Muslims with ties to al-Qaeda announced earlier this week that Christians in the Middle East are "legitimate targets," and follows the bombings and hostage-takings that have targeted churches and Christian homes, killing over 60 in Baghdad.
As one Westerner working in Kabul stated to U.S. officials regarding the case, "The U.S. government has been actively engaged in Afghanistan since 2001, spending billions of dollars, exerting millions of hours of manpower, and losing precious American lives in order to ensure that the Afghan people enjoy these basic human rights. If one cannot enjoy these rights, none can enjoy them."
UPDATE (Nov. 15, 2010): Court officers on Sunday postponed the trial of Afghan convert Sayed Musa due to the Muslim holiday of Eid. They say trial will be held next Sunday, Nov. 21. Meanwhile, according to Westerners close to the case, Afghan officials have not formally stated the charges against Musa (though they are likely to be conversion from Islam and espionage), they have not allowed him legal representation, and they have refused requests from family members to see his court file.