Turkey Orders Iranian Christians Deported

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Widow in convert family faces court-ordered arrest for apostasy.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, October 11 (Compass) – A family of Iranian converts to Christianity faces jail time, the death sentence and the forced marriage of their daughter if Turkish authorities forcibly deport them back to Iran next week after nearly three years of failed attempts to obtain U.N. refugee status.

A deportation order issued October 5 by Turkish police in Kastamonu, 130 miles north of Ankara, gives Zivar Khademian and her three adult children 15 days to leave Turkey or be forcibly repatriated back to Iran.

But only a handful of nations will grant even limited visas to any of the thousands of Iranian refugees in Turkey trying to find resettlement abroad. Although Turkey issues an automatic three-month visa to Iranian citizens, its immigration procedures resist attempts to resettle Iranians in a third country.

So with an October 20 deadline hanging over them, the family of four has packed up to leave Kastamonu, planning to seek anonymity in one of Turkey’s large cities while searching for some visa option.

“If we cannot find a legal way to leave Turkey,” one of them told Compass, “we will go into hiding to avoid arrest and deportation back to Iran.”

Together with her daughter Fatemeh Moini, 19, and sons Hossein and Kazem Moini, both in their early 30s, the widowed Khademian was baptized several years ago by a Protestant church in Tehran.

The family decided to leave Iran in January 2003 after it became known among relatives, neighbors and local authorities that she and her children had become Christians.

In particular, Khademian wanted to prevent a strict Muslim relative of her late husband from marrying her daughter Fatemah Moini, who had been promised in marriage to this cousin at her birth. Now 35, the cousin lives in the Islamic holy city of Qom and is an active member of the Basij, a volunteer militia that enforces Iran’s severe Islamic codes.

Although the mother and daughter had been practicing Muslims, they were deeply impacted by telephone calls from Canada from the eldest son, Faheem Moini, who had become a Christian and urged them to start reading the New Testament. Only after they had both accepted Christianity did they admit this to the two other sons, who then began to accompany them sometimes to house-church meetings.

Eventually the entire family landed in trouble when Kazem Moini was arrested and jailed in May 2002. During a raid on their home, police found Christian and other cassette tapes that he had been duplicating secretly.

Kazem Moini remained in prison for six months, while his brother Hossein went into hiding, and his mother and sister were subjected to regular police surveillance.

When the family scraped together funds to bail Kazem Moini out of jail, the conditions of his release were severe. He was forced to promise to spy for the police on evangelical Christian activities, and the family had to surrender the deed to the family home as collateral for his bail.

But a month after he was released, the family managed to sell their car, find a black-market passport for him and buy train tickets for them to neighboring Turkey, crossing the border on January 11, 2003.

Following required immigration procedures, the four applied for refugee status three days later at the Ankara headquarters of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). But within four months, the UNHCR rejected the family, declaring their claims to be “not credible.”

“Your testimony was not found plausible,” the May 27, 2003 rejection letter stated, going on to declare, “The harm you suffered or fear you have is not related to any of the five [U.N.] Convention grounds listed above”—one of the five being religion. The family had submitted proof that Kazem Moini had been jailed, along with copies of their baptismal certificates.

Under the laws of Iran, apostasy from Islam is listed along with murder, armed robbery, rape and serious drug trafficking as a capital offense.

Within a month the family filed an appeal, but in August 2003 the Turkish authorities sent the family from Ankara to Kastamonu to wait for the UNHCR decision.

Fifteen months later, Khademian learned that the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic of Iran had issued an order for her arrest, charging her under Islamic statute No. 471 with apostasy, or abandoning Islam. The court arrest order shown to Compass was issued on October 28, 2004 and sent to her former Tehran address.

Although the family immediately took the document to Ankara and submitted it to the UNHCR, they received no response. On February 15, 2005 they received a final rejection letter, declaring their UNHCR file closed with no further review possible. A week later Turkish police delivered a deportation order for the family.

The next day, however, Faheem Moini’s church in Canada filed a plea with Turkish authorities. Confirming their formal sponsorship of the family, the Calvary Baptist Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, requested a stay in the deportation until immigration procedures could be finalized to bring them to Canada. So Ankara’s security police extended the family’s temporary residency for another six months.

But when the six-month extension expired this fall, police in Kastamonu informed them their residency could not be extended again, since the UNHCR had closed their case.

When the family turned in their expired residence permits on October 5, the Turkish police returned the Iranian passports on which they entered Turkey.

The family remains unsure where to turn now.

“They shouldn’t be sent back to Iran,” the pastor who baptized the family told Compass. “This case should be announced all over the world.”

Copyright 2005 Compass Direct