Afghan Christian released from prison and safely out of the country

A human rights organisation has learned that Shoaib Assadullah, an Afghan Christian who was imprisoned for five months and threatened with execution for his conversion to Christianity, was released from prison in late March and recently fled Afghanistan to safety.

According to International Christian Concern (ICC), Assadullah was arrested on October 21 in Mazar-e-Sharif for giving a Bible to a man who later reported him to local authorities.

On March 11 from Qasre Shahi Prison in Mazar-e-Sharif, Assadullah wrote reportedly wrote, "I am under emotional pressure from being in prison. Add to that the threat of being executed, constant insults and accusations, cursing and being forced by other prisoners and by prison guards to do work for them, all because of prejudice against my different beliefs and my different ethnicity."

ICC said months of aggressive international diplomacy led to Assadullah's release on bail on March 30. However, Assadullah was ordered by court officials not to leave Mazar-e-Sharif.

"The problem with the bail is that it's not money, but a house, a shop and persons. The wakil, or municipal representative of sorts, of Shoaib's area also guaranteed that Shoaib would not flee," said an ICC source in contact with Assadullah.

On April 14, however, ICC learned that Assadullah received a passport and was able to safely flee the country.

"Shoaib's location in Mazar became known and this was judged to be a high risk, so he has left the country for an indefinite stay abroad. He traveled to Kabul and then (out of the country) with the help of friends," a friend of Assadullah's told ICC from Mazar-e-Sharif.

Aidan Clay, ICC regional manager for the Middle East, said in a news release, "Shoaib Assadullah's release ends a frightening ordeal and ICC could not be happier for him and his family. However, while the Afghan government relented on Assadullah's behalf, there does not appear to be any change in policy, and the crackdown on Christians will continue."

He added, "Currently, several converts may face prison and death sentences after being denied asylum in India and scheduled for deportation back to Afghanistan. We still have a long battle ahead of us before the Afghan government recognises the religious freedoms of Christians."