On January 5 I joined Christian advocacy groups and bloggers in urging prayer and action for Sayed Mussa and Shoaib Assadullah, both facing death for “apostasy,” i.e., leaving Islam for Christ. Yesterday Compass Direct and other agencies reported that Sayed Mussa had been released from prison sometime between February 13 and February 21. Read more details here in Compass’s story and see a recent letter of Mussa. (The spelling I am using for his name is the one he uses in his letter).
On February 13 Mussa was visited by three Afghan officials who told him that he would be released within twenty-four hours if he wrote a statement declaring that he regretted his conversion to Christianity. “I laughed and replied, ‘I can’t deny my Savior’s name,’” Musa wrote. “Because my life is just service to Jesus Christ and my death is going to heaven [where] Jesus Christ is. I am a hundred percent ready to die. They pushed me much and much. I refused their demands.”
Prompted by intense lobbying from concerned Christians, diplomatic efforts secured Mussa’s release and he was quietly moved out of Afghanistan. His wife and six children are still at risk in the country. While we are relieved that our brother has been freed, we must face the sober reality that life for Afghanistan’s tiny but growing church is still very dangerous, America’s resources and military notwithstanding.
[Correction: In my post on January 5 I noted that Mussa was an employee of the Red Cross and wrote, “ICRC [the International Committee for the Red Cross] has not attempted to intervene or even visit Mossa.” In an email on January 7, Marie-Josée Guillaume of the ICRC’s South Asia desk assured me that since Mussa’s arrest on May 10, Red Cross delegates had visited him four times between August 1 and late December. As a matter of policy the ICRC does not intervene in a detention even for its own employees, on the basis that doing so could compromise their primary mission.]
Shoaib Assadullah remains in prison in northern Afghanistan. The deadline from authorities for Assadullah to recant or be executed was passed more than a month ago. It is likely that increased attention on Assdullah’s case has forestalled action against him. Last month his mother died due to the stress of her son being in prison.
Asia Noreen (also called Asia Bibi) is still in prison near Lahore, nearly two years after her arrest. She is the first woman charged under Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy law. In an interview published February 20 by the Spanish daily, El Pais, Noreen gave the real reason for the charges: “One day I complained to a tax collector because he was allowing his animals to run free and they were damaging my house. He insulted me, and from then on he began a campaign against me.”
Pakistani officials have her under protective guard due to threats on her life. Even if she were released she would likely be killed by Islamic extremists, as has happened to others charged under the blasphemy law. There is a $350,000 reward being offered for her death.
The Governor of Punjab, Saleem Taseer, had been critical of Pakistan’s blasphemy law and Noreen had hoped that he would secure a pardon for her. But on January 4 Taseer was assassinated by a member of his own security team. Noreen was deeply distraught on hearing this news, but is still trusting that “”God will hear my prayers and will help me get out of here and get back home to my family.”
Let’s continue to exert the most powerful international pressure possible—prayer—on behalf of the body of Christ. As distressing as persecution news is, we must remember that it is also evidence of the remarkable advance of Christ’s Kingdom and the enormous strength God is giving our brothers and sisters. Pray that God continues to use opposition for “the furtherance of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:12).