(A BosNewsLife/Worthy News Special Investigation)
By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (Worthy News)-- An Afghan man who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity has been released on bail after international pressure, but concerns remain about his safety, his friends confirmed to Worthy News and its news partner BosNewsLife Friday, April 8.
Shoaib Assadullah, 23, was reportedly detained October 21 in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif for giving the Bible's New Testament to a man who later reported him to local authorities. While jailed, Assadullah said in letters seen by BosNewsLife that he was physically abused and receiving death threats from fellow inmates.
Afghan officials did not comment on his release.
Friends said they still fear for his safety as Muslims planned new protests Friday, April 8, against last month's burning of a Koran at a church in the U.S. state of Florida. Several other demonstrations against the torching of what Muslims regard as a holy book left at least 24 dead, including seven United Nations employees.
There were fears Friday, April 8, the protests could put additional pressure on Assadullah and other Christian converts in Afghanistan.
BosNewsLife News Agency said Friday, April 8, it had temporarily pulled a photo of Assadullah after friends expressed concerns he may be recognized by angry crowds. The news agency did not yet release names of sources that contacted BosNewsLife citing security concerns.
It was not immediately clear when and if Assadullah would face a new trial. He did not address media directly yet, apparently amid fears for his safety.
Authorities have confined Assadullah to an area in northern Afghanistan where last Friday, April 1, a dozen people were killed in an attack on the U.N. compound in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, BosNewsLife learned.
Despite the difficulties, Assadullah reportedly said he wants to "continue to live and serve God in Afghanistan."
Assadullah is the second Christian to be released from prison after Said Musa, another convert,who was quietly granted asylum in Europe in February after what he called an "abusive" nine month detention.
Christian Musa was detained in May when a local television network aired footage of Afghans being baptized and participating in prayer gatherings.
The broadcast led to a nationwide crackdown against Muslim converts to Christianity, several rights groups said.
While Afghanistan’s constitution upholds freedom of religion, "apostasy", or abandoning Islam, is tried under Islamic law and punishable by death, according to experts.
There were indications Friday, April 8, that the release of the Christians followed Western diplomatic pressure and publicity.
Among those pressuring the Afghan government was the Netherlands where Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte pledged he would do everything in his power to prevent executions of Christian converts, BosNewsLife learned.
His cabinet also announced an expert would join a police force to investigate possible religious rights violations in Afghanistan.
The opposition ChristenUnie (ChristianUnion) party had said it would only back a planned Dutch police mission in Afghanistan if the government pressured the country to release Christian converts and improve religious rights.
While its contribution is relatively small, the Netherlands is viewed as a key ally of the United States in rebuilding the country and the fight against militant Taliban and al-Qaida groups.
In latest statements, United States President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have also condemned an explosion of Islamic violence in Afghanistan, following the torching of a Koran, although they did not directly address the reported persecution of Christian converts in the country.
There may be as many as 10,000 Christian converts in heavily Islamic Afghanistan, according to Christian rights activists.