BosNewsLife

There are no Christian churches left standing in Afghanistan after local courts backed the destruction of the last known church building in the troubled nation, according to the US State Department.

The last public Christian church in Afghanistan was razed in March 2010, according to the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report.

"There is no longer a public Christian church; the courts have not upheld the church's claim to its 99-year lease, and the landowner destroyed the building in March...

- US State Department's International Religious Freedom Report

US officials also said there are no Christian schools left in the country.

"There is no longer a public Christian church; the courts have not upheld the church's claim to its 99-year lease, and the landowner destroyed the building in March...(private) chapels and churches for the international community of various faiths are located on several military bases, PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams), and at the Italian embassy."

The report comes just over a decade after American troops ousted the strict Islamic Taliban regime and a $US440 billion war more than 1,700 US military deaths to date.

The US State Department acknowledged that remaining "negative societal opinions and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Muslim converts to Christianity."

There was no immediate reaction to the report from Afghanistan's government.

Despite reported persecution, there may be as many as 10.000 Christian converts in heavily Islamic Afghanistan, according to some Christian rights activists. Other issued figures range from as few as 500 to 8,000 Christians in a country where openly expressing Christian views can reportedly lead to killings by officials, militants or family members.

And an underground church continues, BosNewsLife established. Washington said it was concerned about "the lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom".

Today, most Christians in Afghanistan are afraid to even "state their beliefs, or gather openly to worship," according to the State Department report.

The report acknowledged that Afghanistan's new constitution - ratified with the help of US mediation in 2004 - can be contradictory when it concerns the free exercise of religion.

While the new constitution proclaims that Islam is the "religion of the state" and that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam", it also claims that "followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of the law," even though "the right to change one's religion was not respected either in law or in practice."

"Muslims who converted away from Islam risked losing their marriages, rejection from their families and villages, and loss of jobs," says the State Department report. "Legal aid for imprisoned converts away from Islam remains difficult due to the personal objection of Afghan lawyers to defend apostates."

More than 99 per cent of the Afghan population is either Sunni, or Shia. Non-Muslim religious groups make up less than 1 per cent of the population; other non-Muslim groups in the country are Sikhs, Bahais and Hindus. 

- with STEFAN J. BOS