By: 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
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
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
"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
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
"'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 2008http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=press&id=773
3) Iran mulls death penalty for Internet crimes.
Khaleej Times (Dubai) (AFP) 2 July 2008http://www.khaleejtimes.com/darticlen.asp?xfile=data/middleeast/2008/July/middleeast_July44.xml§ion=middleeast&col
4) Ebadi rights group warns Iran on Internet crime bill. 20 July 2008http://news.theage.com.au/technology/ebadi-rights-group-warns-iran-on-internet-crime-bill-20080720-3hzs.html
5) Compass Direct Newshttp://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 2007http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/asiapacific/news/article_1287465.php/Iranian_refugee_freed_after_two_years_in_New_Zealand_jail
Upset as gay Iranian wins asylum but Catholic fails. 6 Feb 2007http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10422597
Yadegary decision shows need for Bill change. 14 August 2008.http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0808/S00233.htm
7) Deportation could spell death
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Friday, 07 March 2008http://www.stuff.co.nz/4429773a11.html
Pastor stands by fugitive Iranian
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Thursday, 10 April 2008http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/4472327a22400.html
Pastor speaks against immigration 'persecution'
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Tuesday, 06 May 2008http://www.snl.co.nz/4511319a6016.html
8) "Refugee Status Appeals Authority -- Conversion to Christianity"http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/PB/Debates/QOA/b/0/1/48HansQ_20080417_00000537-8-Refugee-Status-Appeals-Authority-Conversion.htm
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