Afghanistan & India: Believers on Trial

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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin – No. 370 – Wed 22 Mar 2006


Two highly significant trials are under way.

The case in Afghanistan will establish exactly what Afghanistan’s
Supreme Court defines as ‘the beliefs and provisions of the sacred
religion of Islam’. It will show whether Afghan Muslims do or do
not have religious liberty and whether they are or are not
compelled to be Muslim. The case in Rajasthan, northwest India, is
essentially a false vilification charge by Hindu nationalists
purely to persecute and destroy a thriving and much needed
Christian ministry. In both instances the victims (Abdul Rahman;
Rev Dr Samuel Thomas) and the heads of state (President Hamid
Karzai; PM Manmohan Singh) will be tossed between religious zealots
agitating on one side and reformists and secularists agitating on
the other. These are battles between religious liberty and
repressive, authoritarian religious zealotry.


Abdul Rahman (41) is charged with abandoning Islam. During a
custody dispute, members of Rahman’s extended family accused him of
converting to Christianity. He confessed his conversion, was found
to be carrying a Bible and was immediately arrested. His trial
started in Kabul on 14 March but is presently in recess while he
seeks legal counsel. The prosecutor is demanding the death penalty
for Rahman should he refuse to renounce his Christian faith and
return to Islam. Supreme Court judge Mawlavizada has stated that
Raham can return to Islam but if he does not he will be punished.
According to the prosecutor and the judge, the grounds for the
charge and penalty lie in Afghanistan’s new Constitution which
establishes that ‘no law can be contrary to the beliefs and
provisions of the sacred religion of Islam’ (Article Three). This
means that when the Constitution guarantees religious liberty
(Article Two) the law defers to Islam for its interpretation. Islam
mandates death for apostates. Rahman is refusing to renounce his
faith, saying that he has been a Christian for 16 years and will
always remain one.


Rajasthan, northwest India, is a BJP-ruled state (Hindu
nationalist) with anti-conversion laws. Emmanuel Mission
International (EMI) runs a Bible institute, 13 orphanages, 65
schools, a hospital along with leprosy and HIV centres, churches, a
bookshop and a printing press in Rajasthan. EMI ministries have
been the focus of Hindu militant attacks. Most serious is the
militant siege on the Emmanuel Hope Home in Kota. Sympathetic
locals are risking their lives to deliver food to the 2500 orphaned
and abandoned children who live there. The state has frozen all
EMI’s bank accounts and declared it intends to seize all EMI’s
properties. Hindu militants have placed bounties on the heads of
EMI founder, Archbishop MA Thomas (71) and his son, EMI president,
the Rev Dr Samuel Thomas. Other Christian leaders associated with
EMI have been harassed by police. This persecution also affects
EMI’s other ministry, Hopegivers International, which provides
humanitarian and educational services to more than 20,000 children
in India and Africa.

Hindu extremists have accused the Thomases and EMI of distributing
a controversial book which they allege denigrates their religion
and deities. The official complaint was registered on 14 February
under Sections 153(a) and 295(a) of the India Penal Code. Compass
Direct explains that Section 153(a) deals with hurting religious
sentiments, whilst Section 295(a) is for deliberately outraging
religious feelings or insulting the religious beliefs of a
community. Moreover according to a Supreme Court ruling truth is
not a defence under Section 153(a). Both offences are punishable
with up to three years imprisonment. EMI is not a major distributor
of the offensive book. However, Hindu nationalists found a few
copies for sale in the EMI centre in Kota. The book, ‘Haqeeqat’ by
attorney MJ Matthew rebutts a highly offensive and controversial
RSS (Hindu nationalist paramilitary) text. On 16 March plain-
clothed police arrested Samuel Thomas at gun-point and took him to
Kota jail. There is also a non-bailable warrant out for the arrest
of Archbishop Thomas who is in hiding. This is a blatant and
aggressive politically motivated attack on an amazing and much
needed Christian ministry. The response of the central government
is absolutely critical.


* Abdul Rahman in jail in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Rev Dr Samuel
Thomas in jail in Kota, Rajasthan, India, that God will protect
their bodies, minds and spirits, draw them closer to him in
prayer, increase their faith, and fill them with peace, courage
and hope from the Holy Spirit.

* God to give insight and courage to Afghanistan’s President Hamid
Karzai and India’s PM Manmohan Singh, that they will each be
able to see through all devious plots, discern what is right, and
make a decisive, strong and courageous stand for justice and
religious liberty.

* God to make all things work together for good for Abdul Rahman
and Samuel Thomas (Romans 8:28), that the testimonies of these
men would come from the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10:19) and be used
by God for great effect in the hearts of individuals and for the
future of these nations (Isaiah 55:9-11; Philippians 1:12-14).

‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or
imagine…’ (Ephesians 3:20)




In Afghanistan, Abdul Rahman faces death for converting from Islam
to Christianity. He will be spared if he renounces Christianity and
returns to Islam, something he has told the court he will not do.
In India, the president of Emmanuel Mission International (EMI),
Rev Dr Samuel Thomas, was arrested when Hindu nationalists accused
EMI of distributing a book they allege offends Hindus and insults
their beliefs. EMI has suffered militant violence for some time.
The Hindu state government has now frozen EMI’s bank accounts and
intends to seize all EMI’s properties. This politically motivated
attack aims to destroy a significant Christian ministry which runs
a Bible Seminary, numerous schools and orphanages, churches, a
hospital and other services in Rajasthan. In both countries the
central government will either step in to defend religious liberty
or cave in to the pressure of zealots. Please pray.
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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.