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US Quran-burning backlash spreads to Afghanistan

Country/Region: South and East Asia, United States, Afghanistan

The backlash against the burning of a Quran by a pastor in Florida has spread to Afghanistan, increasing the danger for the country's vulnerable Christian community.

Violent demonstrations in Afghanistan against the act, which took place at the church of controversial pastor Terry Jones on 20 March, started last Friday (1 April); seven United Nations staff and at least five demonstrators were killed when an angry mob stormed the UN compound in the northern town of Mazar-e Sharif.

Kandahar_4X3.jpg

The unrest spread over the weekend with protests in Kandahar, where 11 people were killed and dozens more injured in the riots. A peaceful demonstration, which involved hundreds of people blocking a main road for three hours, was staged in Jalalabad on Sunday. The crowd were shouting for US troops to leave Afghanistan and burnt an effigy of President Barack Obama.

The protests in Afghanistan followed demonstrations across Pakistan, where Christians have been targeted in what appear to be retaliatory attacks.

Although the backlash in Afghanistan has been primarily directed at the US, Christians in the country are likely to be viewed as allies of the West, making them extremely vulnerable at a time of increased hostility towards the US.

Christians under pressure

And Afghan Christians, especially converts from Islam, are already under intense pressure. Although the country's constitution guarantees religious freedom, including the right to change one's faith, the reality is quite the opposite.

TV footage of Christian baptisms triggered a frenzied response last May, prompting a crackdown on converts; 26 were arrested while many others were forced to flee the country. Said Musa (45), one of those detained, was locked up for nine months under the threat of execution for apostasy until an intense international campaign won his release in February 2011.

Despite the international pressure Afghanistan came under to free Said, other converts remain in prison, and Christians continue to be denied religious freedom. Shoaib Assadullah (23) was arrested in October 2010 for giving a New Testament in the national Dari language to another Afghan. He has been languishing in prison since, facing the death penalty for apostasy.

While Afghan President Hamid Karzai was quick to call on the US Congress to condemn the Quran burning in Florida and prevent such an act from happening again, he has been silent about the systematic persecution of Christians in his own country.

Mr Obama strongly condemned the burning but also challenged the scale of the response. He said:

The desecration of any holy text, including the Quran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity.

When Pastor Jones first threatened to burn copies of the Quran, to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks last year, Barnabas Fund condemned the action as "an unnecessary, offensive and dangerous gesture".

We are running a campaign to save Afghan converts to Christianity and also for the wider cause of religious freedom in the country.

Sign the Save Afghan converts to Christianity petition sign online

Download a printable PDF version of the petition here. Download Petition (please return by 31 May 2011)

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christian, persecution, charity, church, persecuted, sookhdeo, Islam

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