Date: Monday 22 September 2008
Subj: Iran: parliament passes apostasy death bill -- UNHCR take note!
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
That apostasy (leaving Islam) is an enormously risky even deadly business in any Muslim country is not news to any apostate or to any serious religious liberty observer. That the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) does not always share this view however is news to many.
Traditional Sharia Law mandates death for apostates based on the Hadith (saying of Muhammad) "Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him." (Sahih Al-Bukhari Vol. 9:57).
The decline of Islamic political power, particularly after World Wars 1 and 2, the subsequent rise of secular Arab nationalism, and leverage afforded to the USA due to its economic power led to this practice being largely abandoned at the state level. Whilst apostates were frequently murdered either out of religious hatred or for the sake of "honour", they were not executed by states that were under Western mandates, pursuing secularism and dependent on Western aid and trade.
But times have changed. An international revival of Sunni Wahhabism has been riding on the back of Saudi Arabian oil profits since the late 1970s. Furthermore, decades of brutal, repressive, corrupt dictatorships and declining living standards primed the Muslim masses for the "democracy" coming their way. Now, as soon as the opportunity presents, it appears that Muslims are ready to test the Muslim Brotherhood's assertion that "Islam is the solution".
Meanwhile, the Shi'ite revolutionaries of 1979, after being exhausted by the Iran-Iraq war and then constrained by a western bulwark (Saddam Hussein's Iraq), are now liberated, empowered, bursting with apocalyptic zeal and driven by the scent of Islamic leadership and ascendancy.
After centuries of decline and decades in the cupboard, Islam has returned!
Now Iran is in the process of legislating to make apostasy and promoting apostasy (including through the Internet) mandatory capital offences in the name of protecting the State's "mental security". This shows the degree to which the balance of power has shifted. Clearly the clerics in charge of the Iranian police state do not feel threatened by, nor do they care about, Western displeasure. In fact making the death sentence mandatory for apostasy and promoting apostasy is a very powerful way for ascendant Iran to make an offensive gesture to the USA, the rival power it is gradually replacing as hegemon in Iraq and the wider Middle East. It is a sign of supreme self-confidence.
Further to this, it is also a reactionary response to the reality that Iranian Muslims, fed up with and distressed by seemingly endless poverty and repression, are leaving Islam in increasing numbers. A recent sermon by an Iranian Shia Imam reveals how concerned the authorities are about the apostasy phenomenon and how determined they are to crush it. A Youtube clip shows a portion of a television broadcast of a sermon by an Iranian Shia mullah who is instructing the faithful not to worry about recruiting Sunnis, Christians and Zoroastrians into Shi'ism. For, he warns, he has travelled the country and the greatest danger is that of apostasy, especially young Iranian Shi'a youths converting to Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of pre-Islamic Persia. "Don't let our Shi'a youth leave our faith", he thunders. (Link 1)
IRAN, APOSTASY AND THE UNHCR
Yet over recent years several Western countries have been returning Iranian Christian asylum seekers, including apostates, to Iran on the basis that the UNHCR claims they will not be persecuted.
UNHCR TAKE NOTE: As Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports, "The Iranian Parliament voted on Tuesday [9 Sep] in favour of a bill stipulating the death penalty for apostasy. The bill was approved by 196 votes for, seven against, and two abstentions.
"The progress of this bill through the Iranian Parliament is a cause of grave concern for increasing numbers of Iranians who have left Islam for another religion, and a significant backwards step for human rights in Iran. The draft bill will add a number of crimes to the list of those resulting in execution, among them; 'establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy'." (Link 2)
The Khaleej Times (Dubai) in July reported the bill states that those convicted of these crimes "should be punished as 'mohareb' (enemy of God) and 'corrupt on the earth'". The bill also stipulates that the punishment handed out in these cases "cannot be commuted, suspended or changed". (Link 3)
As the Khaleek Times notes: "Internet is widely used in Iran despite restrictions on access and the blocking of thousands of websites with a sexual content or deemed as insulting religious sanctities and promoting political dissent. Blogging is also very popular among cyber-savvy young Iranians, some openly discussing their private lives or criticising the system."
The Defenders of Human Rights Centre, which is run by Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, warned in July: "If this bill is adopted, there will be further infringement of the freedom of expression, citizens' judicial security will be jeopardised and executions will increase." (Link 4)
. . INSIDE IRAN
On 10 September Compass Direct (CD) reported that two Iranian Christians have now officially been charged with "apostasy".
Mahmood Matin Azad (52) and Arash Basirat (44) have been in prison since their arrest in Shiraz on 15 May "on suspicion of apostasy". The two men were later charged with "Propaganda Against the Islamic Republic of Iran".
CD reports: "When their lawyer went to authorities to inquire about the case in early August, he was informed that the two men had been formally charged with apostasy.
"Sources who spoke to the two Christians' defence lawyer explained that a written order of the formal charge of apostasy was unusual and an indication of the severity and complexity of the case.
"With the apostasy bill debated in Parliament, some Iranian Christians fear that authorities are seeking to make an example of the two prisoners or give the prospective law a 'test run'." (Link 5)
. . AND OUTSIDE IRAN
The UNHCR and all Western governments must observe that this bill mandating death for apostasy and promoting apostasy passed easily through the Iranian parliament. The vote clearly proves that Iranian authorities overwhelmingly believe that apostates and those who promote apostasy should die. Even if the Guardian Council does not pass the bill into law (for whatever reason) it may be assumed that those who take the implementation of Sharia law into their own hands will not be prosecuted by this regime. Apostates who have left Islam will have no security. This fact must be allowed to impact refugee claims.
Two cases presently before the courts in New Zealand perfectly demonstrate the problem faced by numerous Iranian Christian asylum seekers.
Thomas Yadegary is an Iranian convert to Christianity. He arrived in New Zealand in 1993 and had been working for years as a chef when in November 2004, after his final appeal for refugee status was declined, Yadegary was issued with a deportation order. Yadegary was then arrested after he refused to sign an application for an Iranian passport. In early April 2007, after 29 months behind bars, Yadegary was released on bail after a court hearing, the details of which were suppressed pending a government appeal. (Link 6)
Miss Bahareh Moradi, another Iranian convert to Christianity, is also fighting deportation. Her pastor, Rev. Rinny Westra of St Aidan's Presbyterian Church, says he has seen Immigration New Zealand targeting Iranian converts for harsh treatment.
Scoop Independent news reports: "Mr Westra says Miss Moradi's case is one of a series where Iranian Christians have been unreasonably rejected by Immigration.
"He points to Christian convert Ali Pannah, who went on a hunger strike in prison to avoid deportation, and Majid Mohebbi, who he says was whipped after being deported.
"'In mid-April an Iranian man who claims to be a Christian was deported after visiting Miss Moradi's brother Hamid,' says Mr Westra. "In all their cases their pastors vouched for the truth of their conversions." (Link 7)
According to the article "Pastor speaks against immigration 'persecution'" (at link 6), the Labour Department, which oversees Immigration NZ, rejects the claims that Iranian Muslims who convert to Christianity face persecution in Iran. In its statement the Labour Department asserts: "Neither the United Nations High Commission for Refugees nor the government's own sources support the contention that all Christians face danger, on the basis of religion, if they are returned to Iran."
When the New Zealand Parliament sat in April, the Minister for Immigration, the Hon. Clayton Cosgrove, was asked to comment on the government's recent decision to order the deportation of Miss Bahareh Moradi.
Now the Refugee Status Appeals Authority had expressed doubts about the genuineness of various conversions despite detailed evidence to the contrary from clergy and pastoral workers from the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Pentecostal Churches. However Mr Cosgrove said the genuineness of a conversion was irrelevant, because the issue is whether the fear of persecution is well founded and, he reports, according to the UNHCR it is not.
"We are reliant on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for advice," said Cosgrove. "We are reliant on the members of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority as independent individuals to make those judgments. They assess all the facts. They receive representations from qualified and unqualified stakeholders, and they make decisions in an independent way.
"We are governed by the advice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, not vested interest groups, and not representations from others, though they are taken into account. To date, despite what the member says, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees does not support the contention that Christians face these dangers if returned to Iran. However, if it was to be the case that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees changed its view . . . then of course New Zealand, being governed by its international obligations, would indeed consider that change. I note, though, that the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, and other countries have faced similar issues of repatriating Iranians who have hindered their departure. These countries have found that Iranians who are returned to Iran are unlikely, despite their alleged conversion to Christianity, or other claims, to be subjected to persecution." (Link 8, Hansard; for the full transcript of the debate in the NZ parliament: "Refugee Status Appeals Authority—Conversion to Christianity".) The New Zealand parliament next sits on Tuesday 23 September 2008.
The opinion of the UNHCR carries considerable weight in Refugee Review Tribunals. Therefore the UNHCR should cast off all political correctness and instead catch up with and embrace the challenge of reality: that due to the violent, repressive, rights-abusing nature of Sharia Law, non-Muslims -- in particularly apostates, who are in effect "religious-dissidents" -- seeking refugee status on religious grounds should never be forced to return to Islamic states. Their fear of persecution is very well founded indeed.
1) Iranians are renouncing Islam: Mullah gets Paranoid! Sep 2008
2) Iran -- Parliament votes in favour of punishing apostasy with death
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, 11 Sep 2008
3) Iran mulls death penalty for Internet crimes.
Khaleej Times (Dubai) (AFP) 2 July 2008
4) Ebadi rights group warns Iran on Internet crime bill. 20 July 2008
5) Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org/content/index.php?id=25 (search Iran)
6) Iranian refugee freed after two years [29 months] in New Zealand jail
Asia-Pacific News 5 April 2007
Upset as gay Iranian wins asylum but Catholic fails. 6 Feb 2007
Yadegary decision shows need for Bill change. 14 August 2008.
7) Deportation could spell death
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Friday, 07 March 2008
Pastor stands by fugitive Iranian
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Thursday, 10 April 2008
Pastor speaks against immigration 'persecution'
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Tuesday, 06 May 2008
8) "Refugee Status Appeals Authority -- Conversion to Christianity"