Alert your local vicar!

Dr. Waghied Wahdat-Hagh, senior fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy, writes:

The “Parliament” [Majlis] has approved a law that includes renunciation of Islam. It remains to be seen whether it will enter into force. But those who would be affected have already begun practicing their faith in secret.

The regime in Tehran is sending out mixed signals as to whether Iran’s Criminal Code will now impose the death penalty on Muslims who forsake Islam to convert to Christianity. A final decision on the question should finally be taken this autumn. The bill’s first reading in the Majlis last September passed by a large majority: 196 representatives voted yes, seven voted no, and there were two abstentions.

Now, supposedly, the Majlis has excised this intended change to the Criminal Code. According to media reports on June 27, the Chairman of the Majlis Legal Affairs Committee, Hojatoleslam Ali Schahroki, said that the regulation on “renunciation of Islam” wouldn’t even be mentioned in the bill. According to the Farsi Christian News Network, Christians in Iran are surprised and irritated by this statement, because the truth is that the Council of Guardians and the Supreme Leader have the final say on this unsettled question.

The disputes within Islamist factions over this element of the Criminal Code are increasingly visible, and there may be a connection with the protests that followed the disputed presidential election. Joseph K Grieboski, President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy in Washington, sees no sign that this debate indicates an opening up, but only the regime protecting itself. “If the regime were to uphold Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency and then push through a restrictive penal law, international pressure on the Iranian regime would be unbearable.” According to the International Society for Human Rights, the announced withdrawal of the bill is a “purely cosmetic move.” There is still the possibility of being executed for renunciation of Islam under Iran’s Islamic laws.

Up to now, punishment for renunciation of Islam – also known as apostasy – has been practiced arbitrarily in Iran. Once it becomes part of the Criminal Code, every Iranian court would be bound to enforce it. It’s certain that Christians who convert from Islam will continue to be arrested and convicted.

Read it all, then alert your local vicar and ask him/her to make their voice heard to any relevant political or ecclesiastical authorities. Freedom to change one’s religion, or indeed not to practise any faith, is a basic value of democracy and liberalism enjoyed by millions around the world. Iranians deserve the same freedoms. The apostasy law must not pass!

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