OXFORD, England -- Abdul Rahman of Afghanistan was not the first Muslim convert to Christianity to be sentenced to death and he will not be the last.
Human-rights activists around the world cheered when -- despite efforts by the post-Taliban parliament -- he was allowed to seek asylum in Italy. Other converts have been less fortunate, facing imprisonment, abuse, torture and death at the hands of state officials or vigilantes in Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Indonesia and elsewhere.
While Rahman's plight drew waves of prayers, few Western believers noticed a related case last year that was just as important, according to Paul Marshall, of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom.
Journalist Ali Mohaqeq Nasab was jailed for his work with Women's Rights magazine in Kabul. Among his many sins, the liberal Shiite cleric had argued that Muslim apostates should not face execution. Thus, radicals demanded that he face the gallows himself. He repented.
"If it is blasphemous to discuss charges of blasphemy, then you have in effect a totalitarian system," said Marshall, one of my colleagues at the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life. We both took part in a seminar last week for journalists from around the world, focusing on blasphemy and freedom of the press.
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