Voice of the Martyrs has designated Afghanistan as a “restricted” nation in its annual Global Prayer Guide, saying the government has been “highly antagonistic” toward Christians, who have been increasingly targeted by violent extremist groups since the Taliban took control last August.
“Although waves of Christians have moved to neighboring countries to worship openly, Afghan house churches continue to grow,” says the guide, adding that a small number of Christians “are martyred every year in Afghanistan, but their deaths generally occur without public knowledge.”
“You might have heard, a year ago after the fall of Kabul, that every follower of Christ in Afghanistan had fled the country, been killed or was hiding while trying to get across the border. This is simply not true,” Todd Nettleton, host of Voice of the Martyrs Radio, said in a statement The Christian Post.
“Bold believers in Christ intentionally made the decision to stay in the country — knowing full well their lives were at risk — to serve their countrymen and to continue to share the Gospel,” Nettleton added.
The Afghan House Church Network and the U.S.-based group International Christian Concern estimate that there are 10,000 to 12,000 Christian converts throughout the country who have practiced underground over the last two decades.
The total population of the overwhelmingly Muslim-majority country is about 39 million.
Afghan Christians cannot worship openly, VOM says. “They must worship in homes or other small venues, and evangelism is forbidden. Christians and seekers are highly secretive about their faith or interest in Christianity, especially following a surge of arrests in the past decade. Beatings, torture and kidnappings are routine for Christians in Afghanistan.”
“In 2022, there is a very real threat of higher levels of violent persecution in Afghanistan,” the CEO of Release International, Paul Robinson, said earlier, referring to the Taliban’s takeover of the South Asian country.
“Our partners tell us that Christians who are unable to follow the outward forms of Islam, such as praying at the mosque and saying the shahada, the Islamic profession of faith, will stand out more clearly,” he added. “This increases their vulnerability to persecution and the pressure on them to conform.”
Last November, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom warned that religious freedom conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated since the Taliban took control of the country on Aug. 15 that year.
The commission noted that it had “documented and received credible reports of violence including executions, disappearances, evictions, desecration of houses of worship, beatings, harassment, and threats of violence to members of particularly vulnerable religious communities.”
The Taliban had gone door-to-door looking for Christian converts, U.S. allies, former government workers and human rights activists, USCIRF said, based on reports.
“Christians have received threatening phone calls, while one leader of a house church network received a letter on August 12 from Taliban militants threatening him and his family. Some Christians have turned their phones off and moved to undisclosed locations.”
Afghanistan’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was reinstated by the Taliban last September, “uses a notoriously violent hardline Islamist policing system,” the factsheet added.
The VOM said that the “restricted” designation includes countries where government-sanctioned circumstances or anti-Christian laws lead to Christians being harassed, imprisoned, killed or deprived of possessions or liberties because of their witness; or where government policy or practice prevents Christians from obtaining Bibles or other Christian literature; and where Christians may experience persecution from family, community members and/or extremist groups because of their witness.