By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (Worthy News)-- Over 20 Afghan Christians have been detained in Afghanistan after high-level leaders called for the arrest and execution of converts to Christianity in the Islamic nation, an advocacy group said Friday, June 25.
Britain-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide said the Christians were detained since last week and added that non-Christians with ties to Westerners have also been targeted for interrogation.
The names and ages of those detained were not immediately available. The reported arrests came after Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a deputy of the lower house, called for Muslim converts to Christianity to be executed.
He expressed outrage over footage from Afghan broadcaster Noorin TV showing men it said were reciting Christian prayers in Farsi and being baptized.
"Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public, the house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them," Khawasi said.
CONVERTING TO CHRISTIANITY
Noorin TV said the men were Afghans who had converted to Christianity thanks to the proselytizing efforts of two Western aid groups, the Norwegian Church Aid and Church World Service of the United States.
Both organizations have denied the allegations, but authorities suspended their activities pending an investigation.
Qazi Nazir Ahmad, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat, said killing a converted Muslim was "not a crime" as converting from Islam to another religion is punishable by death under Afghan law.
The Afghan constitution is based on traditional sharia law, which strictly bans religious conversion.
In early 2003 a 41-year-old Afghan, Abdul Rahman, was granted asylum by Italy after facing a death sentence for converting to Christianity from Islam.
PRESIDENT PERSONALLY INVOLVED
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has made clear he is personally interested in following the issue of alleged involvement of international organizations in evangelism.
There are more than 1,000 aid organizations operating in Afghanistan, mostly funded by Western countries, and some have been accused of preaching Christianity.
CSW said however that Afghanistan violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights it ratified, which protects the individual’s “freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”.
Christian converts in Afghanistan have long faced "extreme obstacles and threats but recent events have brought to light the institutionalized nature of the danger," added CSW Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas.
"Groups continue to flee the country and an urgent plea for help from Afghan Christians in Delhi has been circulated among Christians around the world."
INTERNATIONAL PROTESTS DEMANDED
CSW said it has urged the international community to improve security of Afghan Christians and to urge Afghanistan's government to adhere "to their obligations under international law.”
News of the threats against minority Christians was expected to add to urgency of General David Petraeus who United States President Barack Obama named as the new commander for the war in Afghanistan, where NATO troops fight Taliban militants.
The Armed Services Committee was to hold a hearing for the Army general next Tuesday, June 29 .
Both Republicans and Democrats have said they back Petraeus for the job and Obama expressed his trust. "He has my full confidence," Obama said.
Petraeus replaces General Stanley McChrystal, following a magazine interview in which McChrystal and his aides criticized the U.S. administration.