Iran Releases Iranian Converts

Thursday, October 2, 2008

By BosNewsLife Senior Correspondent Eric Leijenaar

TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife) -- Iran has reportedly released two Iranian Christians from Muslim backgrounds who could have received the death penalty on charges of apostasy, BosNewsLife monitored Wednesday, October 1.

The well-informed Italian news agency Adnkronos said Mahmoud Matin Azad, 52, and Arash Basirat, 44, were released Tuesday, September 30, after a tribunal ruled that charges of "offence to Islam" and "diffusion of falsities" were "invalid", apparently after international pressure.

Both men were detained in May by intelligence officials in the city of Shiraz, in southwestern Iran during a meeting with 13 other who were later interrogated and released. The prosecution requested the death penalty for Azad and Basirat, according to documents obtained by Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), which has close contacts with Christians in Iran.

Their release followed a statement last Friday, September 26, by the European Union saying it was "very worried" about the apparent deterioration of religious freedom in Iran, following the arrests of Christians as well as followers of the Baha'i religion and Sunni and Sufi Muslims.


German-based evangelical news agency IDEA quoted well-informed observers as saying that a meeting between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and church officials last week in New York also contributed to the release of both Christians.

However at least some 43 other 'converts' remain jailed in Iran, Adnkronos quoted unidentified sources as saying. Many of them are believed to be Christians and there have been international concerns about their situation.

Several converts have in the past died in mysterious situations, or were sentenced to death, including evangelical pastor Hossein Soudmand, who was hanged in 1986 in Mashad prison.


The government of Iranian President Ahmadinejad recently presented to parliament a proposal to modify the penal code and include in it the crime of abandonment of Islam, which could carry the death penalty.

About 99 percent of Iran's 65 million people are Muslims, while a quarter of a million Muslims converted to Christianity, according to conservative estimates. Other sources suggest that the number of Christian converts in Iran is much higher and rising, adding to concerns among Muslim leaders.

There are also at least some 150 Armenian and Assyrian Christians, church observers said. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).

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