Afghanistan’s small Christian community is fearing persecution and even death under Taliban rule as the Islamist militant group has moved to consolidate its power since taking over almost the entire country earlier in August.
Christians in Afghanistan are mainly converts from Islam and estimated to number between 10,000 and 12,000 adherents, according to the advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC). The community has long practiced their faith in secret due to the cultural pressure of living in a Muslim-majority society and the prohibition of apostasy under Islamic law.
Christians and other religious minorities in Afghanistan faced widespread repression during the Taliban’s previous rule between 1996 and 2001. The government’s strict interpretation of Islamic law meant non-Muslims were often subject to harsh punishments such as public executions, flogging and amputations.
In the years after U.S. and coalition forces toppled the Taliban-led government in 2001, the Christian community in Afghanistan began to grow in part due to the U.S. presence on the ground. A number of Afghan Christians even opted to change their religious affiliation on national identity cards to better reflect their identity, according to Christian news outlet WORLD.
But the Taliban has toppled the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and declared the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, leaving the country’s Christian community fearful that the repression which characterized the Taliban’s initial rule before 2001 will return.
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan “has devastating implications” for Christians not only in the country but in the entire region,Open Doors USA chief executive David Curry said in a statement to the Daily Caller.
“The free practice of religion is likely nearing extinction,” his statement read. “The Taliban is known for its extremely strict interpretation of Sharia law. Under their control, women are severely oppressed, violent attacks are common, and people who convert away from Islam are especially at risk of being tortured and killed by Taliban members.” (RELATED: Afghan Women Dread Islamist Radicalism, Wearing Burqas As Taliban Takes Over Kabul)
Samuel, an Open Doors field director whose full name was withheld for security reasons, added that Taliban rule is “absolutely dangerous” for Afghan Christians. He said “it would be almost impossible to be a Christian in this country” now that the Taliban has taken over.
Although the Taliban has promised “a complete amnesty” for its political opponents, many Christians fear they will continue to be targeted as Taliban fighters patrol the streets of Kabul and other cities. One Christian leader told ICC he is “telling people to stay in their houses because going out now is too dangerous.
Many Christians are reportedly escaping to the hills outside major cities in an attempt to hide from the Taliban, according to a first-hand ground report shared by Frontier Alliance International. Other opponents of Taliban rule, including U.S. allies, have also gone into hiding as reports indicate the Taliban is tracking them down.Taliban militants are going door-to-door and even pulling people off public transport if they are suspected of being Christian or an opponent of Taliban rule, according to recent reports from Middle East-based Christian broadcaster SAT-7.
“We’re hearing from reliable sources that the Taliban demand people’s phones, and if they find a downloaded Bible on your device, they will kill you immediately,” SAT-7 North America President Dr. Rex Rogers said in a statement. “It’s incredibly dangerous right now for Afghans to have anything Christian on their phones. The Taliban have spies and informants everywhere.”
Afghan Christians are also fearing for the safety of their children after a recent declaration by the Taliban-led government’s cultural commission noted its plans to “eradicate the ignorance of irreligion” by offering non-Muslim girls as brides to Taliban fighters and forcing non-Muslims boys to serve as soldiers.
As the U.S. and other countries prepare to accept thousands of Afghan refugees, faith-based groups are urging governments to help vulnerable Christians. Canada’s government said last week it will create a special program for refugees belonging to “persecuted religious minorities” and other vulnerable groups. (RELATED: Biden To Discuss ‘Close Coordination On Afghanistan Policy’ In Meeting With G7 Leaders)
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called on the State Department earlier this year to designate the Taliban as “an entity of particular concern” over its violations of religious freedom, a move that could lead to sanctions.
USCIRF chair Nadine Maenza told WORLD that the Taliban’s takeover “is the worst possible development for religious minorities,” adding that those communities “are now in imminent danger” under Taliban rule.