Religious liberty watchdogs are warning of a dire situation for Afghanistan's Christians, saying persecution likely will rise following the takeover by the Taliban.
Christians in the country are "living in great fear," a church leader told the United Kingdom-based Release International.
The Taliban took control of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, over the weekend.
"Some who worked for the government now face reprisals, and any identified as Christians could be killed," Release International reported. "Christians risk betrayal, even from their own family members."
The Taliban, a militant Islamic regime that ruled Afghanistan prior to 2001, is known for its repressive ideology toward women and citizens of other faiths.
Even before the Taliban took control in recent days, religious liberty was in peril, with the Taliban controlling large sections of the country. Open Doors' World Watch List placed Afghanistan as No. 2 on its list of countries where it was most dangerous to be a Christian.
But with the Taliban now controlling the Afghanistan government, the situation is even direr.
International Christian Concern estimates there are between 10,000 and 12,000 Christians in Afghanistan.
"What small hope there was for religious freedom in the former government has now all but dissipated," International Christian Concern reported Monday. "Religious diversity in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is not possible."
The Taliban's rule of Afghanistan prior to 2001 was "marked by extremism, violence, and discrimination against religious minorities," ICC said.
"All activity deemed against Islam was monitored and banned by the Taliban regime and the oppression of women hit all-time highs with the Taliban's strict enforcement of their version of Islamic shariah law," ICC said.
International Christian Concern urged the international community to track human rights developments in Afghanistan and "keep the Taliban in check through multilateral engagement." The international community should "safeguard at-risk individuals like Christians and other religious minorities," ICC said.
Release International on Monday quoted a man named "Micah," who has been in contact with Christians in Afghanistan.
"Our brothers and sisters in Christ are telling us how afraid they are," Micah said. "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."
Christians in a Taliban-controlled nation risk "being charged with apostasy," which is punishable by death or prison, Release International reports. Muslims who convert to Christianity may be killed by their family, the organization said. Christian persecution is "set to rise," the organization said.
Release International underscores what it called one "ray of hope" – Christian radio broadcasts into the country.
"In places like Afghanistan, the church has had to learn to operate much as the early Church in the Book of Acts – under continual threat of persecution," said Release International CEO Paul Robinson. "But today the church is better resourced and equipped to handle that challenge than ever before."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Natanael Ginting
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.