A Red Cross employee has captured international attention after being imprisoned and sentenced to death in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity.
Said Musa, who lost his leg to a land mine while serving in the Afghan army, worked with fellow amputees for the International Committee of the Red Cross for 15 years. Eight years ago, he converted to Christianity.
International Christian Concern (ICC) reports that Musa was released from prison last week. "The call came on February 21 from an official from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul confirming that Said Musa was released and safely out of the country," ICC reports. Compass Direct has confirmed Musa's release.
"According to Afghanistan's constitution, if there is no clear verdict as to whether an act is criminal or not in the penal code of the Afghan Constitution, then it would be referred to sharia law where the judge has an open hand in reaching a verdict," Qamaruddin Shenwari, director of the Kabul courts' north zone, told CNN.
Converting from Islam to Christianity is a capital offense under Shari'ah law. Over the past several weeks, Musa's story has gained attention in Europe and the United States, with articles appearing in London's Sunday Times and The Wall Street Journal, along with a high-profile Twitter campaign by prominent evangelical pastors, including Bethlehem Baptist Church's John Piper and Saddleback pastor Rick Warren.
Musa, who was sexually and physically abused in prison, was quietly transferred to a different prison last fall after he wrote a letter to the international church and President Barack Obama detailing his abuse and pleading for help. His wife and six children have fled to Pakistan.
The attention paid to Musa's case leaves some wondering why this case has been scrutinized in the Western media while many other Christians face similar persecution.
"It's a sympathetic case," said Paul Marshall, senior fellow in the Center for Religious Freedom. "Here he is, himself an amputee who lost a leg, working with amputees for Red Cross Red Crescent. He has six children. One is handicapped."
Musa's handwritten letter from prison also has an attractive quality, Marshall said. It's a strong affirmation of his faith but his English is imperfect, he said.
"He's an appealing figure," Marshall said. "He hasn't done things which secular media might not like, like trying to convert people." That makes this one of the clearest and most uncluttered religious freedom cases with a sympathetic figure, he said.
It's a good story, and the media were ready for the story, he said. Last October gunmen attacked a Catholic church in Baghdad during Mass, taking more than 100 hostages and killing 58. Two months later, a bomb during a New Year's Eve service killed 21 people at a Coptic church in Egypt.
"Those are two unusually large attacks and largely close in time, so that got attention," Marshall said. "That sort of deliberate bombing is unusual. The antennae are up."
Musa's location is also part of the equation, said Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA. The case should be a wake-up call to Americans that this is happening in Afghanistan—a country where we have invested American lives and billions of dollars, he said.
"We would have imagined that to be the case under the Taliban," Moeller said. "We would have assumed someone professing Jesus Christ as their Savior would be killed. But here is the government, in a nation we fought in and our boys and girls died for, [doing the same thing]. That's crazy to me that this is going on."
Musa's testimony has not been marred by any political angles, Moeller said. "In many ways he is a pure model of what Christian suffering looks like when it's at the hands of people who have no regard for the rights of people to convert," he said. "It's just wrong at every level."
While Musa's case has garnered lots of recent media attention, there are many more Christians who are suffering for their faith all over the world, Moeller said, pointing to Asia Bibi, who has received a death sentence in Pakistan for alleged blasphemy against Islam. In China, others are facing years in prison for their faith, he said. "They may never get the press Musa is receiving but it doesn't mean their stories are any less meaningful to God," he said.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Musa's release.
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Other media reports include:
TN religious leaders join call to free jailed Afghan aid worker | Conversion from Islam to Christianity could bring death penalty to Said Musa. (The Tennessean)
Christian Jailed in Afghanistan to Face Judge on Sunday | Imprisoned since May, father of six has yet to learn charges against him. (Compass Direct)
America Quiet on the Execution of Afghan Christian Said Musa | But the President has been silent, even as we fight a war that has among its goals the creation of a government that conforms to international human-rights standards. (Paul Marshall, National Review)