Iran 'Officially' Charges Ex-Muslim with Drug Trafficking

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Officers tell convert to Christianity his real crime was abandoning Islam.
by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, August 8 (Compass Direct News) -- Seven years after Issa Motamedi Mojdehi converted from Islam to Christianity, Iranian secret police have jailed him for abandoning Islam but officially charged him with illegal drug trafficking.

Authorities formally charged the 31-year-old Christian with drug trafficking when he was arrested two weeks ago. But Savama (secret police) officials have told Motamedi Mojdehi that his real offense, said to be recorded in his confidential legal file, is abandoning Islam. Unless he renounces his Christian faith and returns to Islam, officials told him, he will remain in jail and possibly face execution.

In a written police summons dated July 22, Motamedi Mojdehi was ordered to report within three days to the criminal section of the police station in Rasht, his home city in northwestern Iran. When he complied on July 24, he was put under arrest. A week later, he was transferred to Lakan Prison.

Security officials told Motamedi Mojdehi that no one outside Iran would ever know or care about him, informed sources told Compass.

An officer identified only as Mr. Baghani warned the arrested Christian that it might take “several executions” before Iranians understand the consequences of apostasy under Islamic law. In the Iranian judicial system, apostasy is listed along with murder and drug trafficking as a capital offense.

Local sources have confirmed that Motamedi Mojdehi and his wife Parvah, who also has converted to Christianity, “came to the attention of the authorities” in January, when they chose a name from the Bible, Micah, for their newborn son. It remains unclear whether the couple was allowed to register the baby’s name, culturally regarded as Christian, with the civil population bureau.

The jailed Christian and his wife are members of a local house church group known as the Rasht Free Evangelical Church. In addition to their infant son, they have an 8-year-old daughter named Martha.

Motamedi Mojdehi is expected to stand trial soon before a revolutionary tribunal in Rasht, capital of Gilan province. According to an August 1 report from the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), rumors have circulated that his wife will also be arrested on false drug charges.

The Iranian government routinely uses fabricated drug charges as a pretext to jail prisoners of conscience for their political or religious beliefs. Thus it circumvents the guarantees of Article 23 of the Iranian Constitution, which forbid investigation into individuals’ beliefs and specify that “no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”

Widespread drug use in Iran gives such accusations surface credibility. Iranian officials have confirmed that more than 60 percent of the nation’s prisoners are being held on drug-related charges, according to a Radio Free Europe report on June 26. Last year, the director of the Iranian National Center for Addiction Studies estimated that 20 percent of the Iranian population is “somehow involved in drug abuse,” giving Iran the highest drug addiction rate in the world.

Attorney Needed

According to Nicolas Ciarapica of Vox Dei, a French news website that first broke the news of Motamedi Mojdehi’s arrest on July 24, a local Protestant pastor has met with Rasht authorities over the case.

“But so far, they have not been able to find any lawyer willing to defend him,” Ciarapica told Compass.

Since the Iranian revolution, the government has strictly proscribed the activities of its evangelical Christian citizens, closing down scores of churches and arresting known converts from Muslim background.

In Gorgan, convert Ali Kaboli was released on bail on June 12 after six weeks in jail on unspecified charges. Another convert Christian, Hamid Pourmand, has been imprisoned nearly two years for allegedly “concealing” his Christian identity while serving as a colonel in the Iranian military. Pourmand became a Christian more than 25 years ago.

According to reports, Savama authorities recently have issued arrest warrants in various cities against several other converts to Christianity, demanding they return to Islam.

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct News