Category Archives: Iran

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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Free Iason Athansiadis

Nieman Foundation calls for release of journalist detained in Iran

Iason Athanasiadis, our friend and colleague from the Nieman Class of 2008, has been arrested and is being detained by the Iranian government. Iason, a Greek citizen, was in Iran to report on the June 12 presidential election. He was traveling with a valid journalist’s visa and credentials when he was picked up by Iranian officials at the Tehran airport last Wednesday evening. Iranian news agencies have reported his detention, although no precise charges have been presented.

“The Nieman Foundation and members of the Nieman community around the world are supportive of the Greek diplomatic initiatives to secure Iason’s safe and immediate release,” said Nieman Curator Bob Giles. “His dispatches from Iran are the work of a professional journalist who cares deeply about the Iranian people, for whom he has developed a deep affection during his years of reporting there.”

Iason, who grew up in Athens as the son of university professors, developed a familiarity with Iran during three years there as both a journalist and student. He filed stories for a range of publications including the Financial Times, Al-Ahram Weekly, The Daily Star in Lebanon and Al Jazeera. During that period, he earned a master’s degree with a concentration in Persian and Contemporary Asian Studies at the School of International Relations in Tehran.

Iason once recalled the Persian saying that “knowing another language is tantamount to possessing another culture.” He said he recognized the difference in his coverage of the region after achieving fluency in Farsi and freeing himself from dependence on a translator.

During his Nieman year, Iason amazed his classmates with his energetic pursuit of courses throughout Harvard and his willingness to serve on panels and fulfill speaking invitations, often to talk about Iran. His op-ed pieces and occasional freelance assignments seemed to materialize effortlessly. He also created an exhibit of his work as a photojournalist. Leading teachers and thinkers at Harvard were drawn to him as a fair-minded and knowledgeable source of information about Iran.

During his recent reporting visit to Iran, he filed stories for The Washington Times, GlobalPost and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

The Nieman Foundation and Nieman Fellows in many parts of the world are asking news organizations to work through diplomatic channels in an effort to secure his release. Iason’s family has requested help from the Greek Foreign Minister and the Greek Ambassador to Iran.

Iason is among at least 40 journalists and bloggers who have been detained by the Iranian government since the contested election took place earlier this month.

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