The Taliban is killing people in Afghanistan they find with copies of the Bible on their mobile phones, a Christian non-profit announced on Tuesday.
The Taliban, a radical Islamist terrorist organization, seized leadership of the country on Sunday after surrounding the nation’s capital, Kabul, prompting former President Ashraf Ghani to flee. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan until 2001, when the United States invaded the country, and established a brutal regime that regularly persecuted political dissidents, religious minorities, women, and anyone considered to be violating Islamic law, or sharia.
According to SAT-7, an organization that broadcasts Christian programs to churches and Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, the Taliban is using “spies and informants” to persecute the Christian minority in the country.
“We’re hearing from reliable sources that the Taliban demand people’s phones, and if they find a downloaded Bible on your device, they will kill you immediately,” said SAT-7 North America President Dr. Rex Rogers told Religion News Service. “It’s incredibly dangerous right now for Afghans to have anything Christian on their phones. The Taliban have spies and informants everywhere.”
Other Christian nonprofits and ministries that specialize in assisting persecuted Christians around the world have been sounding the alarm as well, emphasizing the ruthless nature of Taliban leadership. A Christian contact of one Release International partner described the situation as “dire” in a report published Monday. Release International is a Christian ministry that also assists persecuted Christians around the world.
“Our brothers and sisters in Christ are telling us how afraid they are. In the areas that the Taliban now control girls are not allowed to go to school and women are not allowed to leave their homes without a male companion,” said Micah, a name assigned to him to protect his identity.
Even without the Taliban in power, Afghanistan was the second most dangerous place for Christians to practice their faith, behind North Korea, according to the 2021 version of Open Doors’ World Watch List. Open Doors is a non-profit that monitors Christian persecution and aids its victims. The U.S. State Department similarly described the now-former Afghan government as extremely hostile to Christians.
In its 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom, the State Department documented widespread death threats against Christians — most commonly from family members — and from officials. Christians in Afghanistan were forced to practice their faith underground and meet with small groups to worship.
Christians also faced significant legal persecution under the U.S.-backed government. Apostacy, the “crime” of renouncing Islam for a different faith, was punishable by death, imprisonment, or confiscation of property. Anyone who preaches another religion is subject to the same punishment. After conversion to a different religion, an individual was given three days to recant before they face punishment for apostasy.
“According to Sunni Hanafi jurisprudence, which the constitution states shall apply ‘if there is no provision in the constitution or other laws about a case,’ beheading is appropriate for male apostates,” the report states, “while life imprisonment is appropriate for female apostates, unless the individual repents.”
The State Department estimated Christians and other minority religious groups made up 0.3 percent of the population, adding that no reliable estimates of the Christian community exist.
Now that the Taliban has seized power again after a 20-year war, Christians who were already being forced to conceal their beliefs for fear of retribution are reportedly being targeted and murdered for their faith.
“Secret believers in Afghanistan are especially vulnerable. Prior to Taliban rule, they already had a very difficult time living out their faith, as they had to keep it secret from their families for fear of being shunned, or worse, killed,” said Brother Samuel, Open Doors Field Director for Asia.
“Now that the Taliban is in power, their vulnerability increases tenfold. It would be almost impossible to be a follower of Jesus in this country,” Brother Samuel continued. “We are monitoring the situation, but this is the time for us to ask God to have mercy not only on His people but on this country as a whole.”
The Taliban is infamous for monitoring the social practices of local populations and imposing ruthless punishments based on their interpretation of Islamic Law, or what observers call a “parallel system of justice,” according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom.
Open Doors noted that though the Taliban has promised a “more modern and reformed approach to government,” fear remains as to how it will impose sharia in the coming days and weeks.
“With the collapse of the government, the expansion of extremism, food shortages and the raging pandemic, Afghanistan needs urgent prayer from the global Church right now, more than ever,” the organization said.