Monday, October 3, 2022

China's Great Leap Backwards: implications of the CCP's 20th National Congress

By Elizabeth Kendal

The 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – wherein the CCP’s top leaders for the next five years will be appointed – will commence on Sunday 16 October. 

The Congress comes as the CCP is in the grip of a ‘civil war’ between Xi Jinping’s ‘ultra-Maoist’ faction and the CCP’s two original factions: the Shanghai Faction led by Jiang Zemin (president 1993-2003), and the Chinese Communist Youth League (CCYL) led by Hu Jintao (president 2003-2013).  

The 20th Congress will essentially mark the start of a new phase of that ‘civil war’ as Xi Jinping (president since 2013) is appointed to a status-quo-busting, Deng-era-ending third term as President.

As the International Strategic Studies Association’s Defense and Foreign Affairs (D&FA) Strategic Policy magazine notes (8,2022): ‘It cannot be stressed enough how precarious and important this current “civil war” for dominance of the CPC is to both Xi Jinping and the Chinese population, and to the long-term strategic posture of mainland China…’


After the death of Chairman Mao Zedong – a mercy which brought the horrendous Cultural Revolution to an end – paramount leader Deng Xiaoping moved decisively to secure the position of the CCP.

Just as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had done in 1956 when he blamed all the Soviet Union’s failings, excesses, and horrors on the late Joseph Stalin (died 1953), Deng blamed the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and all the CCP’s failings, excesses, and horrors on the late Chairman Mao (died 1976). Consequently, in China as in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party literally got away with mass murder.

To prevent the rise of a new personality cult, Deng introduce presidential term limits – limiting Presidents to two five-year terms. He also introduced collective leadership – ensuring power was shared and rotated between the CCP’s two factions: the Shanghai Faction/Gang (which represents China’s wealthy coastal cities) and the Chinese Communist Youth League (CCYL, which represents China’s poor rural hinterland).

Deng insisted that the CCP should get its legitimacy not from ideology but from its ability to deliver prosperity. Famously declaring, ‘To get rich is glorious!’ Deng put China on path to openness and free market reform in pursuit of development and prosperity.

However, just as occurred in Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, openness and restructuring generated neither approval nor gratitude. To the contrary, openness and reform enabled awareness, which generated anger, facilitated demands, and culminated in protests.  

After the Tiananmen Square protests and 4 June 1989 military crackdown, the CCP realised it needed a new narrative. A new school curriculum was written in which Marxist ideology was replaced with Chinese nationalism. According to the new narrative, China was long the greatest nation on earth. However, from 1839, China endured 100 years of national humiliation at the hands of hostile foreign powers. Since taking power in 1949, the CCP has been leading China on a 100-year marathon to national rejuvenation which will see China regain global supremacy by 2049.

The generation raised on this narrative (i.e. virtually all mainland Chinese under the age of 30) tends to view the CCP as China’s saviour and defender, much to the horror of the older generation, particularly those aged over 70yrs who lived through the terrors of the CCP’s Cultural Revolution.

Originally a member of Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai Faction, Xi Jinping has diverged from Jiang in assessing that China’s growth is unsustainable. The country is running out of foreign exchange reserves and crises loom over food and water. Consequently, the CCP will not always be able to deliver prosperity.

As Xi sees it, if the CCP is to complete the 100-year marathon to national rejuvenation and global supremacy then the CCP will need to sacrifice growth and return to Mao-style total control of both the economy and the masses.

The main obstacle on Xi’s path has been the commitment of CCP elites – specifically those of the Shanghai Faction – to continue to promote pursuit of prosperity. As geopolitical-economic analyst David Goldman [author of, ‘You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-form the World’ (July 2020)] notes in a September 2022 address: ‘China is Marxist the same way the Mafia is Catholic’.  This is not about ideology. To the contrary, it is all about retaining power and wealth, and what should be the means to that end. 


After becoming president in 2013, Xi Jinping moved quickly to establish his own faction and shore up his own power. In March 2018, the CCP’s purged, submissive legislature approved an amendment to the constitution, removing presidential term limits, paving the way for Xi Jinping to be re-appointed for a third (and fourth and possibly fifth) five-year term. Xi (69) has already surpassed the recommended (but not mandated) retirement age for CCP leadership, that being 68 years.  

Xi has secured enormous power, firstly by way of political purges executed under the cover of ‘anti-corruption’, and secondly through escalating levels of social control. Xi’s extraordinary measures of social control range from the establishment of a People’s Armed Police (PAP) force tasked with ‘stability maintenance’; lawfare under the cover of new ‘Administrative Measures’ and repressive legislation; the use of blanket surveillance using camera loaded with world-leading facial recognition software and Artificial Intelligence to drive the CCP’s punitive Social Credit System; to extraordinarily cruel Zero-COVID measures through which the CCP has demonstrated it can turn an apartment block or even a city into a lethal prison literally overnight.


In April 2022, Defense and Foreign Affairs (D&FA) Strategic Policy magazine (4,2022) assessed that the lockdowns are designed to ‘bring the locals to heel, ending the expectation of free movement and economic prosperity, ensuring that the Xi faction would not be challenged’. The authors noted that ‘tens of thousands’ had already died from ‘deliberately induced widespread starvation in Xi’an, Shanghai and elsewhere in mainland China.’  

According to the D&FA report, ‘Three weeks into the Shanghai lockdown, which began in late March 2022, the Party under Xi, had begun replacing or supplementing the omnipresent police and white-clad COVID medical enforcers with elements of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) brought in from outside Shanghai. PLA Air Force Xi’an Y-20 heavy transports airlifted the troops into Shanghai in a mass operation during the second week of April 2022.’  

Dabai in Shanghai, RFA, 29 May 2022

This pattern continues to be replicated across the country. At the detection of just a few COVID cases, whole cities are forced into snap lockdowns – not for days but for weeks – with little to no food, water, medicines, or assistance. Apartment blocks are sealed, barricaded and fenced in overnight. Those not home when a COVID case is detected are rounded up by ‘Dabai’ (meaning ‘Big White’ on account of their white hazmat suits) – and herded off to quarantine facilities / concentration camps. By day, people succumb to starvation, lack of medical care, and suicide. Anything but silent, the nights are marked by eerie wailing as despair and desperation take hold. [See China Insights, ‘New wave of strict lockdowns across China’, 16 Sept 2022.]

Using Zero-COVID measures, Xi has managed to rein in the private sector, stifle unsustainable growth, punish the Shanghai Faction, and return the masses to a state of fearful submission and dependency. In an article entitled, ‘China’s Growth Sacrifice’ (23 Aug 2022) Stephen S. Roach expresses concern that the process ‘has only just begun’.

Some analysts believe Xi might relax the Zero-COVID measures after the Congress, once his position is secure. Others are not so sure; indeed, some believe Xi should never feel secure again! Whatever the case, the CCP has acquired the ability to control the masses to levels unimaginable just a few years ago.

Persecution will escalate

This nightmarish environment forms the context of the escalating persecution of the Church in China. In pursuing its goal of a global supremacy, the CCP demands and requires a ‘united front’. Dissenting voices will be silenced. The persecution ahead will be just as severe as that in Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) – albeit more high-tech. CCP policy is less about ideology and more about a determination to keep the CCP in power, no matter the human cost.

The human cost

It is increasingly clear that the atheistic CCP has no regard for human life. And why should it? The atheist does not believe that human beings are created by God in the image of God; or that life is a gift from God; or that they will have to give an account to God. To the atheistic CCP, Chinese citizens are expendable cogs in the CCP’s machine. For the Chinese, the human cost of that ideology is increasingly becoming clear.

‘LYING FLAT’: In March-April 2021 a new trend emerged among Chinese youths: that of tang ping or ‘lying flat’ [see: China Insights, 9 June 2021]. The chatter around lying flat became so ubiquitous on social media that by October 2021, President Xi felt obliged to condemn it. ‘Lying flat’ does not mean stopping work, because most youths simply cannot afford to stop work. ‘Lying flat’ is a negative mindset or a viral sentiment wherein youths are opting to stop striving and instead do only that which is essential for survival. They have pursued Xi’s ‘Chinese dream’, working ‘996’ (from 9am to 9pm, six days a week), only to find themselves unable to afford a home or maintain relationships or enjoy recreation. By 2021 these disillusioned youths were increasingly struggling to afford food amidst record inflation soaring youth unemployment [19.9 percent].

‘LET IT ROT’: By March 2022, a new trend had emerged and tang ping or ‘lying flat’ was overtaken by bai lan or ‘let it rot’. [See: China Insights, 7 June 2022.] ‘Let it rot’ is ‘an evolution of 2021’s “lying flat” trend, but with more nihilist overtones.’ No longing opting to do the bear minimum, Chinese youths are ‘voluntarily giving up the pursuit of life goals because they realise that they are simply unattainable’. As Mara Leighton explains, ‘Bailan refers to when a losing team stops trying to win in order to more rapidly bring a game to its end’ [Insider, 6 Oct 2022]. To ‘let it rot’ is to accept that the situation is hopeless, and that the future is both ‘unchangeable and unsatisfactory’. If ‘lying flat’ is a statement of frustration and disillusionment, then ‘let it rot’ is a lament of hopelessness and despair.

‘RUNOLOGY’: The latest term or sentiment to go viral in China is runxue or runology [see: China Insights, 24 July 2022]. Made from the English word ‘run’ and the Chinese word xue or study, it refers to the study of running away. The term went viral in April 2022, at the beginning of the punishing Shanghai lockdown. As China’s largest city and financial hub, Shanghai’s diverse population includes many highly educated and entrepreneurial Chinese who have gained advance degrees and experience overseas, along with many foreigners. As news leaked out of locked-down/incarcerated residents starving to death, or dying for want of basic medical care and medicines, or being driven to suicide; or of Dabai (‘Big White’) zero-COVID policy enforcers abusing traumatised residents, assaulting the elderly, sealing apartments, and beating pets to death, it grabbed the world’s attention (at least for a moment). As the Xi-led CCP works to crush the private sector and redistribute wealth by force, many wealthy Chinese – everything from greedy crooks and corrupt elites to highly educated successful and entrepreneurial Christians – are desperately seeking a way of escape. Meanwhile the government is desperately implementing measures to keep them, and their money, trapped in the country. China is fast becoming a prison.  


By 1953, the Mao-led CCP had expelled all foreign missionaries. By the late 1960s it had sent most of China’s Christian leaders to forced labour in coal mines and prison labour camps. Yet in the absence of foreigners and pastors, Christ the Redeemer raised up an army of unassuming evangelists – mostly mature Chinese women – who spread the Gospel throughout China’s rural heartlands. Over the decades, Chinese Christianity grew phenomenally; it remained, however, an overwhelmingly rural phenomenon. In the wake of the horror of the 4 June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, multitudes of China’s educated urban elites started to question their ideology. Amidst the grief, Christ the Redeemer opened the door to spread his saving Gospel through China’s burgeoning cities.

Of all the countries where Christians are persecuted, China is unique precisely because God has worked all things together so that Christians exist everywhere (geographically) and at every level of society. Clearly, God is preparing the Chinese Church for a time yet to come.

The day is surely coming when the LORD will judge the CCP: he will ‘cut it down’ and ‘cast it out’ (Ezekiel 31). But that will only happen in God’s perfect time, according to God’s perfect plan, when everything is in
place. When that day comes, the Chinese Church will be free to change the world.

Meanwhile, as China's Church perseveres through faith-testing times, we must uphold China’s Church in prayer. Though Satan will fight to the bitter end, his fight will be in vain – especially as we pray! May Christ the Redeemer yet again work all things together in fulfilment of the Father's good and perfect plan (Romans 8:28).

Christians in China
Asia Harvest 2020

(includes a table of stats for each province)


Recommended freely available resources:

YouTube: China Insights  (this is but one of several excellent YouTube channels providing analysis on China. Others include China Uncensored, with Chris Chappell; and Spotlight on China).

‘The Rise of the Xi Gang: Factional Politics in the Chinese Communist Party,’ by Srijan Shukla. Observer Research Foundation, Occasional Papers, 12 Feb 2021.

For a chronology of the repressive measures introduced since Xi Jinping came to power see: / Global Persecution / North East Asia / China


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate for the persecuted Church. To support this ministry visit

Elizabeth has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016). She is also an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

For more information visit: 

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Nigeria: Terrorism Strikes the South-West

Owo church massacre might herald something worse on horizon
by Elizabeth Kendal

terrorism strikes the South-West

Channels TV 5 June 2022

At around 11:30am on Pentecost Sunday 5 June, Fulani Muslim militants from the North attacked worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, in the north of Ondo State, in Nigeria’s mostly Christian ethnic Yoruba South-West. 

They struck as the worship service was ending, detonating Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and shooting worshippers as they fled.

According to reports, some of the terrorists were already inside, disguised as worshippers, while others wore military camouflage and were armed with automatic rifles. The shooting continued for about 20 minutes, and though it ‘could be heard from the nearby Methodist Church ... police officers stationed close to the area failed to respond’ (CSW, 6 June).

The highly organised attack left 22 worshippers dead and 56 wounded requiring hospitalisation, many in a critical condition (revised toll as of 7 June)

Rushing home from a gathering of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abuja, Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu wept as he visited the massacre site and again as he visited the survivors in hospital.

A “devoted Christian” and Yoruba man, Governor Akeredolu (65) is the son of the late Reverend Jeremiah Olatusi Akeredolu, a convert from Yoruba traditional religion who rose to become the first Anglican Bishop of Akoko in Ondo State.

Critically, Governor Akeredolu has been a leading advocate for restructuring, the need for state police, the anti-open grazing law (limiting the infiltration of Fulani herdsmen), and power rotation (i.e. the unwritten rule that the presidency should rotate between mostly Muslim North and mostly Christian South). Consequently, it might prove significant that the terrorists struck Owo, Governor Akeredolu’s hometown.

Indeed, many view the Owo church massacre as a declaration of war against the Yoruba in general and against Governor Akeredolu in particular.

Nigeria is in election mode

With Nigeria’s next general elections slated for 25 February (federal) and 11 March (state) 2023, Nigeria is in election mode.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held its indirect presidential primary on 28 May 2022 and nominated former Vice President Atiku Abubakar – its 2019 nominee [see RLPB 488 (6 Feb 2019)] – as its presidential candidate for 2023. Atiku is a Northern Muslim from Adamawa State, whose Islam leans towards the liberal/nominal; he is more interested in the reviving the economy and in revitalising the private sector than he is in advancing Islam.

Meanwhile, the ruling APC is yet to announce its candidate. Having been elected to the office of president twice, President Muhammadu Buhari is ineligible for re-election. What’s more, because President Buhari is a Fulani Muslim from the North, many in the party believe the APC should endorse a candidate from the South. Leading the drive for a southern candidate is the Chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum, Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.

On 4 June (the day before the Owo church massacre), eleven northern APC governors declared their support for a southern presidential candidate and recommended to President Buhari that they limit the search to their southern counterparts. Governor Akeredolu tweeted of his ‘utmost joy’.

Then, on 6 June (the day after the massacre), at the meeting of the National Working Committee in Abuja, the APC National Chairman Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, announced Senate President, Ahmed Lawan – a Northern Muslim, from Yobe – as the APC’s consensus presidential candidate.   

Governor Akeredolu questioned whether the announcement was a joke, suggesting Lawan had simply “made public his preferred choice” ahead of APC’s presidential primaries to be held in Abuja from Monday 6 to Wednesday 8 June. The main southern contender is a Christian Yoruba man, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, a graduate of the London School of Economics.

The problem is this: in line with global trends, multitudes of Nigerian Muslims have radicalised, leaving more Muslims unwilling to vote for a non-Muslim on account of the Quranic command: “O believers! Do not take disbelievers as allies instead of the believers. Would you like to give Allah solid proof against yourselves?” (Sura 4:144). Consequently, it is increasingly the case that most Northern Muslims will not be willing – or able (due to threat) – to vote for a non-Muslim.

a mysterious silence

It is very interesting and indeed quite unusual that no-one has (as yet) claimed responsibility for the Owo terror attack.

Boko Haram (JAS), Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and militant Fulani herdsmen (terrorist proxies) have all been active in neighbouring Kogi State, a strategic central state and transport hub linking the political capital, Abuja (in the centre), to the commercial capital, Lagos (on the South-West coast). [See RLPB 618, Jihad Expands in Niger and Kogi, 6 Oct 2021.]

More recently, ISWAP has claimed responsibility for several terror attacks in Kogi. On 24 April, ISWAP claimed responsibility for an attack on a police station in Adavi LGA. ISWAP also claimed responsibility for the 11 May bombing of a beer parlour/bar in Kabba town which killed three and wounded 16; and another bar bombing on 29 May, also in Kabba, which left 12 people seriously injured. Sahara Reporters notes (31 May): “Kabba is the headquarters of the Kabba/Bunnu Local Government Area and the people speak a dialect of Yoruba called Owe.” 

ISWAP also claimed responsibility for the bombing on Thursday 2 June of an annual festival in Okene (38 km southeast of Kabba) which killed two and wounded 12.

Like Kabba, Okene is primarily populated by ethnic Yoruba. Both towns are just 100km north-east of Owo. Yet ISWAP, which is believed to have cells all through the south, has not claimed responsibility. 

Nigeria's South-West, showing Owo in Ondo State,
and Kabba and Okene in Kogi State.

Could it be that a coalition of jihadists/terrorists, ethnic Fulani expansionists, and corrupt Muslim officials at the highest levels of the military and the government might be working together – each maintaining deniability – to terrorise the Yoruba ahead of a campaign to retain and advance Northern-Fulani-Islamist control of Nigeria?

If so, then civil war is on the horizon!

a constitutional crisis

Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution was prepared by the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar (a Hausa Muslim from the North) and decreed into being, just ahead of Nigeria’s return to democracy. Not only did the 1999 constitution abolish local police and centralise Nigeria’s police force, it also expressly bans the establishment of any other police force [see RLPB 596 (5 May 2021)].

The Owo terror attack has reignited calls for a total restructuring of Nigeria’s security apparatus.

In a powerful opinion piece (published 5 June) entitled, Nigeria Needs True Security Federalism, Anthony Chuka Konwea, Ph.D., P.E. explains:
“It is technically impossible to adequately secure a huge nation of 200 million people like Nigeria, from one single central location, modern communications notwithstanding.

“To secure Nigeria, you need field security commanders at the local level, knowledgeable of the peculiarities of the local terrain, and fully empowered to take proactive or preemptive security control measures, as they deem fit,without reference to the center or anywhere else besides the State Government.

“Imagine the chaos at the security command and control center in Abuja. It is daily inundated with situation reports (sit-reps) coming in from 36 State Commissioners of Police, each awaiting further instructions and directives on how best to respond to evolving security threats in their respective jurisdictions.

“Just picture the ensuing chaos and confusion.

“Even with a patriotic, well-meaning Central Command, there is bound to be information overload from so many incoming sitreps, each requiring separate threat analysis, and communication of tactical instructions to the respective field commanders.

“When a Fulani expansionist is the Commander-in-Chief as is the situation currently, and you factor in their obsession with evaluating whether each security threat enhances or detracts from their overall strategic objective of overrunning Nigeria, what you get is the present security chaos.”

See also:
Military Rule and Damage to the Spirit of the Nigerian Constitution
Peter Ekeh, Lagos Lecture, 1 December 2010

Presidential Control of the Nigeria Police: Constitutional Reforms for Organizational Performance Development and Political Neutrality
by Chineze Sophia Ibekwe, LL.B, LL.M, PhD (Labour Law), and Onyeka Nosike Aduma, LL.B, LL.M (Law).
Global Journal of Politics and Law Research
Vol.8, No.2, pp.65-79, March 2020


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

She is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology and has formerly served with the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission and Christian Faith and Freedom (Canberra).


Friday, April 8, 2022

Afghanistan: Islam, the Taliban and the Underground Church

By Elizabeth Kendal

On Sunday 15 August 2021, thousands of heavily armed Taliban fighters swept into Kabul and fanned out across the capital. As in provincial capitals around the country, the Afghan Army simply collapsed. Unwilling to fight, Afghan government troops surrendered Bagram airbase to the Taliban, complete with some 700 trucks, more than 300 Humvees, and dozens of armoured vehicles, artillery systems and a maximum-security prison. Roughly 5,000 prisoners were released, of whom at least 2,300 were known battle hardened militants affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)), al-Qaeda, and Islamic State. 

A few days later, Global Catalytic Ministries – an organisation which supports underground churches in Islamic countries – released grainy footage from a young, clearly distraught, Afghan Christian. “All of our work over the past 20 years has been lost overnight,” he cries. “[We feel like the] whole world has abandoned us.” [See RLPB 612 (25 Aug 2021).]


Because the Afghan Church has long been an imperilled, underground Church, the exact number of believers is unknown. After the fall of Kabul, one Afghan Church leader estimated the Christian population at 10,000 to 12,000; while another put the figure at 5,000 to 8,000. Both feared the Taliban would eventually move to “eliminate the Christian population”. 

In May 2021, just prior to the Taliban takeover, a foreign worker inside Afghanistan told World News Group correspondent Mindy Belz: “There are basically three types of believers: those who have been forced to leave the country, those who survive by exercising their faith underground, and those who are dead.”

Belz explains: “The shrouded group of believers – who meet in homes and small, trusted fellowship circles – exists entirely underground.” Yet, as she notes, Muslims continue to come to faith across the country. “Internet access coming even to remote parts of the country has brought online evangelism and private discipleship. Some Afghan church leaders became Christians while living as refugees abroad and they teach online or have returned to disciple others.” However, “Conversion from Islam continues to carry a high cost in the Afghan honour-and-shame culture. It often means loss of family, inheritance, and a job.”

“For these reasons,” writes Belz, “fellowship among believers can be rare, often taking place in online chat rooms accessed through VPNs [Virtual Private Networks], a secure connection to the internet that makes the user hard to trace. When believers do gather, they do so in small groups over lunch at an office or behind curtains in a safe house in an otherwise nondescript neighbourhood of dusty streets. Bibles are usually contraband, so Scripture is shared using the internet or with cell phone SIM cards. For all the risks, bold church leaders evangelise Muslims and baptise new believers.” 


Baptisms must be performed in secret. The last time Afghans were caught participating in baptism was May 2010. On that occasion a privately-run Afghan television station, Noorin TV, broadcast footage showing Afghans being baptised and worshipping with foreign Christians in alleged “missionary safe houses” in western Kabul. 

The footage triggered a tsunami of Islamic rage in Kabul. Protestors hit the streets, demanding the expulsion of foreigners who try to convert Muslims. To appease the Muslim masses President Karzai appointed a commission to investigate all non-government organisations (NGOs) suspected of promoting Christianity. He also instructed his interior minister and the head of country’s spy agency “to take immediate and serious action to prevent this phenomenon”. In parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a deputy of the lower house, called for Muslim converts to Christianity to be executed. Qazi Nazir Ahmad, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat, affirmed that killing an apostate is “not a crime”. Twenty-five Christians were immediately arrested; over 100 Afghan converts fled to India. 

The situation for Afghan converts had been deteriorating since 2005, a consequence of the Taliban revival. Over the border, in Pakistan, US-ally President Pervez Musharraf had brokered a series of land-for-peace deals with the Taliban-al-Qaeda-tribal alliance. In February 2005 he ceded South Waziristan, and on 5 September 2006 he ceded North Waziristan, providing the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance with an autonomous mini-state – “The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan” – within Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area, along the porous border with Afghanistan.

The Waziristan Accord provided Taliban and al-Qaeda militants with a safe-haven, a sanctuary from where they could consolidate, strategise, recruit, train, deploy, enforce their writ, and expand their sphere of influence. Six months later, in February 2007, the Washington based Center for Security Policy reported that Taliban-al-Qaeda cross-border attacks inside Afghanistan had increased by 300 percent. 

Not only were terror attacks on the rise, but an apostasy trial had lit a fuse that was threatening to blow the Karzai government out of office. 


Arrested in February 2006, Abdul Rahman was the first Afghan convert to be put on trial in Kabul for apostasy (the capital crime of leaving Islam). 

Afghanistan’s new US-backed Constitution – signed into law in January 2004 – states: “Followers of other religions [i.e. non-Muslims] are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law” (Article Two); and, “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam” (Article Three). In other words, nothing had changed! Afghan Muslims still had zero religious liberty.

Within months of the new US-backed Constitution being signed into law, five Afghan converts were summary executed. Concerning one execution, Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi told Reuters newsgroup, “A group of Taliban dragged out Mullah Assad Ullah and slit his throat with a knife because he was propagating Christianity.”

Vigilant killings aside, the trial of Abdul Rahman was the first real test of the Karzai government. Having failed to understand the Afghan Constitution, Western governments demanded religious freedom be respected. Meanwhile, Afghan Muslims demanded Islamic Sharia Law be upheld. Karzai was stuck between the threat of Western sanctions and the threat of Islamic riots. 

Desperate for aid, Karzai had Rahman released from prison and secretly smuggled out of the country. The Afghan response was brutal. 

On Wednesday 29 March 2006, after a two-hour debate, Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga (lower chamber of parliament) voted unanimously to declare the decision to release Rahman, “contrary to the laws in place in Afghanistan”. Unaware that he was already on his way to Europe, the MPs insisted Rahman not be permitted to leave the country. Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari complained that Islamic laws were being ignored and that some government officials were not upholding Islamic values. 

The Taliban issued a statement claiming Rahman’s release was a conspiracy masterminded by foreign forces. The statement called on the mullahs and judges to admit that they had sold themselves as servants of infidels. “We condemn this crime of the puppet administration,” railed the Taliban. “We ask our Muslim brothers to take their position against this offence by the enemies of Islam and to act, based on their responsibility to their religion and God, and to start jihad against Karzai’s administration.”

In July 2006, to appease the Taliban, Karzai reinstituted the religious police of the Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Disbanded after the Taliban was ousted in 2001, this force – famous for beating women, destroying art, and turning executions into spectator sport – was back! 

[For detailed reports see Religious Liberty Monitoring; label: Afghanistan]


As Andrew Boyd of Release International UK (Voice of the Martyrs) notes, Afghan Christians “are used to being an underground church; they are used to working under the most intense pressure and persecution.”  

In October 2021, an Afghan church leader told GCM: “Today I went to visit some families. In one home, half of them are believers and half of them are not. It has been very special, when they see me they are so happy and grateful that I have not left them. I know this is the light of Jesus they are responding to. That is what I hear the most when I go visit people, that my presence gives them hope, and I know that is from the light of God. God works supernatural miracles, signs, and wonders in this part of the world often, but what I am seeing now is more of a natural kind of miracle where He is touching the hearts of people. From what I am seeing in the streets I do think things are getting worse, but it is a very special time and I think the church here will explode in growth.”            

The “light of Jesus” has not left Afghanistan, and we – the Body of Christ – can help keep that light shining. 

The humanitarian crisis facing Afghans is extreme. Reports abound of Afghans selling a kidney, a litre of blood, or even a child, just to survive. 

We - the Body of Christ - can and must help the Afghan Church survive and grow. 



For more on Afghanistan and the history of the Afghan Church, see:
Afghanistan, the Afghan Church, and J. Christy Wilson Jr
By Elizabeth Kendal


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate, and an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).