Chris Lange, FISM News
A newly-released report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has identified Afghanistan as the worst violator of religious freedom in the world. The Annual Report identifies countries that persecute groups who hold religious beliefs that don’t align with those held by the ruling party.
According to the report, religious persecution in Afghanistan increased significantly following the Biden Administration’s abrupt decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the country in August 2021.
“The Taliban takeover and U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August led to mass panic, with a violent crackdown on civil society, targeted killings, beatings and detentions, severe restrictions on women’s rights, diminished local media presence, mass exodus, and violent targeted attacks claimed by ISIS-K on Kabul Airport and houses of worship,” the report states.
The USCIRF said ISIS’s crackdown on religions that don’t adhere to its strict interpretation of Islam have resulted in the “near extinction of religious minorities,” especially Hindu, Jewish, and Sikh communities that have fled to other countries fearing persecution, including death, at the hands of the Taliban and ISIS-K. Christians are also among religious groups targeted for persecution.
“Practicing Faith in Fear Christians, Ahmadiyya Muslims, Baha’is, and nonbelievers are unable to express their faiths or beliefs openly because they face dire consequences, including death, if discovered by the Taliban or ISIS-K,” the report reads.
USCIRF said Afghans who have converted to Christianity from Islam are considered “apostates,” a crime punishable by death according to the Taliban’s strict interpretation of the Quran.
“Converts, who already faced ostracization and the threat of honor killings by family and village members, are at heightened risk following the Taliban takeover,” USCIRF said.
The organization also cited reports that members of the Taliban continue to conduct door-to-door sweeps searching for Christian converts. One church leader said he received a threatening letter from Taliban militants and that many Christians have turned off their cell phones, through which they can be tracked, and have moved to undisclosed locations, fearing for their lives.
“Despite initial statements from the Taliban that they had reformed some elements of their ideology, Afghans who do not adhere to the Taliban’s harsh and strict interpretation of Sunni Islam and adherents of other faiths or beliefs are at risk of grave danger,” the report said.
USCIRF listed several recommendations it hopes the Biden administration will enact, in light of the findings, including officially labeling Afghanistan under “de facto” Taliban rule as a “country of particular concern,” a designation under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) placed on governments that engage in “systemic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The organization is also urging the administration to expand the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to include “certain Afghan nationals and their family members, explicitly including Afghan religious minorities at extreme risk of religious persecution” and to “incorporate protections for freedom of religion or belief into dialogue between the U.S. government and the Taliban.”
Religious persecution watchdog group Open Doors designated Afghanistan as the most dangerous country in the world for Christians in January.