Persecution of Christians has increased in Afghanistan under Taliban control, making it the most difficult place in the world to live as a Christian.
The country has moved up to number one in the Open Doors World Watch List for the first time, overtaking North Korea, which has held the top spot for the last 20 years.
The charity’s annual report says that across the 76 worst countries, almost 6,000 Christians were murdered for their faith last year, and more than 360 million Christians continue to experience ‘high’, ‘very high’ or ‘extreme’ levels of persecution for their faith – a rise of 100 million from just two years ago.
The report says: “Even before this year, it was impossible to live openly as a Christian in Afghanistan. Leaving Islam is considered shameful, and Christian converts face dire and violent consequences if their new faith is discovered. Either they have to flee the country or they will be killed”, possibly by their family, clan or tribe.
almost 6,000 Christians were murdered for their faith last year
It continues: “If a woman converts from Islam to Christianity and her family do not, she is likely to face house arrest, sexual abuse and rape, violence, forced marriage to a Muslim or even an ‘honour’ killing.
“There is very little chance of legal justice for any woman, and women in Afghanistan have very little social or financial autonomy.”
Only a small number of Christians remain in Afghanistan. Many fled the country in August last year after the withdrawal of Allied troops amid the violent Taliban takeover.
Sharifullah, a craftsman who helps a small group of believers, has attempted to share the Gospel through his work, but even this has been stopped.
We will make sure the world hears the Gospel through every breath we take.
“Everything beautiful is considered ‘infidel’”, he says. “The Taliban want their ideology reflected everywhere, and so all signs of colour, life and hope have been removed. They’ve been replaced with Taliban slogans, which are a far cry from hope.”
He said the Islamic terrorists are “killing our souls and our spirits”, but that he and others would not allow the Gospel’s message of hope to be silenced: “We will make sure the world hears the Gospel through every breath we take.”
Zabi’s father was taken by the Taliban after his faith was discovered. “They tortured him for months and then they killed him. A few months later, my brother also disappeared. We never heard of him again.”
She had been working in the country for an international organisation, but when the Taliban took over they withdrew. She was left behind but managed to escape across the border with her mother into another country.
Zabi said: “Our situation is desperate. I have money in my bank account, but cannot access it from here. I have a visa but it will expire soon. What will happen to me? I don’t know.
“I’m praying I can leave this country and go somewhere safe. I may have to go into hiding. Or I’ll be deported to Afghanistan. I may be killed if that happens.”