Also posted on Harry’s Place.
In September 2008, Iran’s parliament provisionally approved a law that would see Muslim converts to Christianity treated as ‘apostates’ who could face the death penalty. (For detailed discussion of the apostasy law see this report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide).
Back then, the Daily Telegraph published an interview with the daughter of the last person to be hanged in Iran under apostasy charges, Hossein Soodmand. The article also noted:
David Miliband, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, stands out as one of the few politicians from any Western country who has put on record his opposition to making apostasy a crime punishable by death.
Following lobbying efforts on behalf of Iran’s Christians, the EU also made a declaration highlighting its concerns over Iran’s treatment of Christians (and, lest we forget, Iran has also imprisoned many Bahai members, whilst Bahai community leaders await trial).
Iran’s Christians have faced confinement, suppression and intimidation in recent times, and world attention has focused on the case of two women, Marzieh Rostampour, 27, and Maryam Amirzadeh, 30, who were arrested in March of this year, and imprisoned on apostasy charges. According to The Guardian, Marzieh and Maryam suffered sleep deprivation as part of police interrogation, and had to share a cell with 27 other women.
For three weeks in May and June, Marzieh and Maryam were held in solitary confinement, and then put in a small cell together for two weeks. After a judge told them that they would both be executed as apostates, Marzieh and Maryam reportedly told the judge to ‘expedite his sentence.’
Whilst it is an absolute disgrace that a national parliament could even debate this law, there appears to be some good news for Christians.
According to Christianity Today, the Iranian government will remove articles stipulating the death penalty for apostasy from the Islamic Penal Code Bill, with Ali Shahrokhi of Iran’s Legal and Judicial Committee of the Parliament commenting that stoning was not “in the interests of the regime.”
However, Iran30 sounds three notes of caution:
Firstly the Guardian Council, made up of strict conservatives, will have the last word and they might reinstate the death penalty; secondly the code could still stipulate severe punishments, such as life imprisonment; and finally, the authorities can use other charges to persecute ‘apostates’ with.
Like their fellow citizens, most Iranian Christians probably voted for Moussavi, as they hoped their situation would improve under his presidency. Now their fate is in the hands of a brutal regime which has suppressed the democratic wishes of its own people through a campaign of rape and murder. Full religious freedom is one of the many freedoms tragically denied to the Iranian people by Ahmadinejad and co. And if the Khomeinist regime cannot provide freedom and justice for Iran’s majority, what hope do Iran’s minorities have?
After all, Marzieh and Maryam are still in prison.
If you do know any clergymen or Christian pastors who enjoy the religious freedoms afforded to them by authentic democracies, please encourage them to voice their disgust at the Khomeinist regime’s treatment of Christians.