Afghanistan suspends two Christian aid groups

Afghanistan suspends two Christian aid groups

By | 2010-05-31T18:02:00+00:00 May 31st, 2010|News|0 Comments

Afghan authorities suspended two Christian foreign aid groups Monday on suspicion of proselytizing in the strictly Islamic nation and said a follow-up investigation would include whether other groups were trying to convert Muslims.

U.S.-based Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid will not be allowed to operate while the allegations, aired Sunday on Afghan television, are investigated, said Mohammad Hashim Mayar, the deputy director of the Afghan government office that oversees nongovernment organizations, known as NGOs.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Economy, Sediq Amarkhil, said the government had no evidence against either organization, which started operating in the country during the rule of the Islamist Taliban, in the late 1990s.

As planning ministry in those days, the economy ministry oversaw NGO affairs.

"If proven after the investigation that they were involved in conversion activities, they will be introduced to the judicial authorities," he said. "If not then they can resume their operations."

Hundreds of foreign and Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in essential humanitarian projects across the country — helping out in areas ranging from health to education — but some Afghans remain skeptical of their motives and suspect they could be a front for proselytizing.

Officials from one suspended group declined to comment, while there was nobody immediately available from the other.

Proselytizing is strictly forbidden in the Koran and illegal in deeply conservative Islamic Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of Western forces are fighting resurgent Taliban Islamists who want the expulsion of the troops as part of a holy war.

There have been bloody protests in the past in Afghanistan against the publication of images of Prophet Mohammad in some Western media.

Weeks before their ouster in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban detained several Western aid workers after accusing them of proselytizing, but the group was freed in a raid by American special forces.

In 2007 Taliban insurgents kidnapped 21 South Koreans who were visiting as part of a church charity group and accused them of proselytizing. Two of the hostages were murdered before the rest were released, although the government denied it had agreed to any ransom demands.

The latest development comes weeks after the government ordered 20 foreign aid groups and charities to close for failing to provide reports on their work and finances.

Some 152 Afghan non-governmental organizations were also ordered shut.