Sunday, March 26, 2006

Rahman to be Released. But Has Anything Really Changed?

Just a few minutes ago, I received word that Abdul Rahman will be released in a few hours on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The case is to be referred to the prosecutor for review but there is little reason to belief that the charges will be reissued. There is simply too much for the Afghan government to lose.

This is, of course, welcome news. And I am grateful that Rahman's life will be spared, if the reports are to be believed. But I believe that it is premature and completely inappropriate for Christians to write the Afghan government to thank them for upholding religious liberty in the country, as some will undoubtedly encourage us to do. Make no mistake; this was a face-saving gesture. None of the laws that allowed this trial to take place have been changed. Religious minorities will continue to live in fear and, I suspect, Afghan prosecutors will learn to be more discrete in laying charges against apostates.

Nor is this the time for western governments to collectively wipe their brows in relief of averting the embarrassment of supporting a government that violates religious laws in such a brutal and blatant way. The Afghan constitution continues to be a self-contradictory document that renders all legislation and rights subservient to Islamic law. Until full religious and human rights, including the right to change one's religion, are acknowledged as a right for all Afghans, nothing long-term will have come from this close call. This is not a time for celebration, but a time to push the Afghan government to make the legislative and constitutional changes to insure that men and women like Abdul Rahman (and there are others!) need not fear for their lives if they choose to exercise their religious right to change their religious beliefs and allegiances.

We also need to remember that Rahman's life remains in the balance, even if he is released. Undoubtedly, he will have to leave Afghanistan. This, too, is unfortunate, as the tiny Afghan church needs men like him.

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