(CNSNews.com) – When asked by CNSNews.com whether Afghanistan should repeal its laws that make it a crime for a Muslim to convert to Christianity, Afghan Ambassador to the United States Eklil Hakimi did not answer directly but said that while his country's constitution provides for “freedom of religion” it also says that "nothing will be contradictory to Sharia law."
The State Department report on religious freedom in Afghanistan released last month said: "Conversion from Islam is considered apostasy and is punishable by death under some interpretations of Islamic law in the country."
The U.S. military has remained in Afghanistan for more than 10 years after overthrowing the Islamist Taliban regime there in 2001. That regime had provided sanctuary to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in the years prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the United States.
Ambassador Hakimi spoke Thursday at Johns Hopkins University's Washington, D.C. campus at a forum entitled “Rebuild Afghanistan Summit 2011.”
CNSNews.com asked Hakimi: “Regarding religious freedom, according to the State Department, at least two individuals had been detained in Afghanistan for converting from Islam to Christianity. Should Afghanistan repeal all laws that make it illegal to convert?”
Hakimi said: “Well, according to our Constitution, there is a freedom of religion. Meanwhile, it says that nothing will be contradictory to the Sharia law. So, while we step into those principles, we have to be careful because we are in a very conservative society, a society that they live based on their faith. So, those cases that you have mentioned, our government, based on these principles, they have handled those cases in a very timely manner and also in a way that should not deter from those principles.”
According to the U.S. State Department’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report, last updated on Sept. 13, 2011, “The [Afghan] government’s level of respect for religious freedom in law and in practice declined during the reporting period, particularly for Christian groups and individuals.”
The report further says, “At least two individuals who converted from Islam remained in detention at the end of the reporting period. (Note: All individuals detained for conversion from Islam were released after the reporting period ended.) Negative societal opinion and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Muslim converts to Christianity. The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom.”
“For situations on which the constitution and penal code are silent, including apostasy and blasphemy,” reported the State Department, “courts relied on their Islamic law interpretations, some of which conflict with the country's international commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the country is a party.”
"Conversion from Islam is considered apostasy and is punishable by death under some interpretations of Islamic law in the country," said the report.
State Department spokesperson Nichole Thompson said that the United States has “engaged Afghanistan at the highest levels” on matters of religious freedom, as it does with other countries.
“The United States, of course, advocates for religious freedom and religious tolerance for all individuals regardless of what country they live in,” Thompson told CNSNews.com. “We press the governments of countries around the world to advance religious freedom. We are continually concerned about things like apostasy and blasphemy laws in Afghanistan and other countries and, like I said, will continue to press other governments to increase what we call a universal standard the freedoms of individuals in those countries.”
Afghanistan’s constitution, promulgated in 2004, states that Islam is the official religion, but that “followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.”
One article states, however, that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam,” while another says that the document’s adherence to the tenets of Islam “cannot be amended.”