Muslims-Turned-Christians Face Death Threats in Netherlands

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

By Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center with Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar, Chief Editor evangelical newspaper Uitdaging (Challenge)

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS (BosNewsLife) -- Parliamentarians in the Netherlands have urged the government to investigate reports of death threats against former Muslims who converted to Christianity, a Dutch Christian daily newspaper reported Tuesday, May 2.

Reformatorisch Dagblad (Reformed Daily) said Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the left-leaning Labor Party (PvdA) and Tineke Huizinga of the rightist ChristianUnion (CU) made their appeal after Dutch radio reported that those targeted include former Muslims living in centers for asylum seekers.

The two politicians asked Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk and Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner to intervene amid growing concern over Dutch policies towards Christians fleeing persecution in their home countries.

Verdonk has come under fire for considering to expel Iranian converts, despite indications they could face the death penalty or at least imprisonment in Iran for abandoning Islam. In November, 2005, an Iranian convert to Christianity was kidnapped from his home in northeastern Iran and stabbed to death, his bleeding body thrown in front of his home a few hours later, Christians said.


50-year old Protestant pastor Ghorban Tori, was apparently targeted by security forces for his involvement in an independent house church of converts in Gonbad-e-Kavus, a town east of the Caspian Sea along the Turkmenistan border.

One former Muslim in Iran, Hamid Pourmand, came to symbolize reported persecution after he was sentenced nearly 20 months ago to three-years imprisonment on charges of religious proselytizing and committing apostasy.

The offense is also punishable by the death penalty under Islamic law in Iran but amid international pressure, including reports from BosNewsLife, a judge ruled against executing 48-year-old Pourmand, an evangelical pastor.

Minister Verdonk has said however that "if Christians don't express their faith openly" in Iran they have no reasons to be afraid. Verdonk is expected to make a decision by June 1 on the deportation of Iranian Christians, after she already expelled a group of Syrian converts, including a father and son and another Christian, who immediately disappeared after arriving in Syria.


Dutch Christians have condemned Verdonk's approach with 97 percent of Evangelical leaders and pastors saying she should resign, according to a recent poll conducted by the influential Dutch evangelical monthly newspaper Uitdaging (Challenge).

Besides a review of the immigration policy, several Dutch politicians also demand better protection for coverts seeking asylum in the Netherlands and demand that Minister Verdonk informs refugees that they should not accept intimidation and death threats.

Speaking on Dutch Christian Radio Association (NCRV) an Iranian pastor said he and many other former Muslims received death threats in recent weeks. "If you don't stop evangelizing among Muslims we will kill you," he was reportedly told by telephone. Some asylum seekers have reportedly been beaten and could be killed when they return home, Reformatorisch Dagblad reported.


The chairman of the Dutch Contactgroup Muslims and Government, Ayhan Tonca, reportedly said in a reaction he was "shocked" about the allegations and said he would propose that mosques in the Netherlands condemn attacking converts during Friday prayers.

There are hundreds of converted Iranians staying in the Netherlands, according to estimates. Reformatorisch Dagblad quoted church aid worker Rien van der Toorn as saying he personally knew "dozens" of former Muslims who were threatened because of their faith in Christ.

The Netherlands, which in the past was seen as one of the world's most tolerant nations and a safe haven for persecuted people, has been implementing tough reforms to control the number of foreigners seeking asylum, a policy observers say was inspired by rightwing politician Pim Fortuyn who was shot dead in May 2004.


Growing tensions with the Muslim community in the Netherlands further attributed to this development, including the killing of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November 2004 after the airing of his movie Submission in which he criticized the treatment of Muslim women.

While churches and human rights watchers say they understand the Netherlands wants to protect its values, they and groups like Amnesty International have suggested the small nation increasingly seems to ignore international obligations by detaining asylum seekers, including Christian converts, in often-inadequate accommodation.

In October 2005, 11 irregular immigrants were killed and fifteen other people injured in a fire in the temporary detention center at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. AI said the center, which hosts both prisoners and irregular immigrants, caught fire on two prior occasions and expressed concern over allegations that earlier recommendations by fire prevention officials may not have been carried out.

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