Afghanistan suspends relief efforts of 2 Christian aid groups
The Afghan government suspended recently the operations of two church-based relief groups on Monday over suspicions that they were involved in converting Afghans to Christianity.
The groups, Church World Service, an American organization, and Norwegian Church Aid were suspended after Afghan television station Noorin TV broadcast photographs that it claimed showed Westerners baptizing Afghans, and other Afghans praying to Jesus at private prayer meetings, according to The New York Times.
The same report mentioned the two groups but officials at Noorin TV said they had no evidence tying the two groups to the activities. Converting to any religion from Islam is a crime in Afghanistan, as is proselytizing, The New York Times said.
The TV reports, which were aired last Thursday and Friday, merely raised “suspicions” about the two groups after finding their names in a local telephone directory of nongovernmental organizations and noticing that they each had the word “church” in their names, Mr. Noori explained in an interview.
The photographs shown in the television reports were seven missionary safe houses in western Kabul, the TV station officials said, according to the New York Times.
The TV report triggered a protest by several hundred students at Kabul University. Meanwhile both of the Christian groups, who disburse millions of dollars in aid, denied proselytizing, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Mohammed Sediq Amarkhiel, a spokesman for the Ministry of Economy, which regulates aid groups working here, said there was no actual evidence against the two groups. However, the ministry decided to suspend them and the government will investigate them, the New York Times reported.
According to the AP, the Afghan government will also look at whether other groups are trying to convert Muslims. Mohammad Hashim Mayar, deputy director of the Afghan government office that oversees nongovernment organizations said.
An investigation commission including officers from the National Security and Interior Ministries had been appointed, although Mayar said officials did not have any evidence of proselytizing beyond the TV report, according to the AP.
Maurice Bloem, deputy director of programs for Church World Service, said Church World Service has worked inside Afghanistan since 1979, always in partnership with local Afghan organizations, and has been serving half a million people of different faiths, the AP reported.
Church World Service is a ministry of 30 Protestant and Orthodox denominations and works in more than 80 countries. It is headquartered in Elkhart, Ind. Norwegian Church Aid, which is tied to Norway’s Lutheran state church, operates in about 125 countries, the AP reported.