Secret World of Afghan Christians

The case of Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert who faced a potential death penalty in Afghanistan, may have shocked Americans, but for thousands of Afghans, it was a glimpse of what could await them.

Rahman is expected to be released and shuttled out of Afghanistan before any trial can resume, which would ease pressures on Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Diplomats and human rights workers say the backdrop to the case is a political struggle between Karzai, a U.S.-backed reformist, and conservative Muslim clerics ideologically close to the Taliban.

Getting Rahman out of the country will not solve the larger issue, though. Rahman is not the only Afghan to embrace Jesus Christ, and the thousands of other Christians in Afghanistan are praying that his case will open a window onto their plight.

ABC News got a glimpse into their secret world, where Christians meet quietly in small prayer groups. Some estimates put the number of Afghan converts at 10,000 or more.

Yet more than four years since the United States ousted the Taliban, Christians still have to meet in secret, unmarked churches. They run small publishing houses and secret cultural centers, quietly receiving funding from Christian groups abroad.

One man, who serves as a local pastor, says converts in Afghanistan know they face the gravest consequences if caught.

"We live in constant fear," he said. "Everyone is afraid."

Many even have to hide their adopted faith from their families. That was what got Rahman in trouble, say other Christians who knew him. His relatives turned him in after he read the Bible to his two daughters.

Christians had been hopeful the U.S.-backed government would make life easier, but so far it hasn't helped much.

"President Karzai has no power to help us. He is just like a symbol," the pastor said.

Another Christian, whose house was raided four months ago by police looking for his Bible, feels lucky they never located evidence of his adopted faith.

He says the United States needs to do more to ensure basic freedoms are enshrined in the new Afghanistan.

"I am thankful to the U.S. for removing the Taliban monsters," he said, "but it is America's responsibility to bring real democracy here."

Officials said Rahman was being held in a high-security prison, located just outside the capital of Kabul, for his own safety, while squabbles continued over how to proceed with his case.