Christians at better danger of arrest after Iran handed new legislation

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Christians are severely persecuted in Iran for their beliefs(Photo: Unsplash / OmidArmin)

The laws passed by the Iranian parliament could make it easier to arrest and detain Christians and other religious minorities.

After amendments to Articles 499 and 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, those found guilty of "deviant psychological manipulation" or "propaganda against Islam", whether in the "real or virtual realm," could be referred to as "sects" advocacy articles 18th

The law allows the regime to ban any group as a sect and can lead to punishment that could be escalated to include the death penalty, said Hamid Garagozloo, U.S. representative of the International Organization for the Protection of Human Rights (IOPHR), during He recently hosted a webinar panel discussion with representatives of religious minorities who may be affected by the law.

According to a Middle East advocate from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the law would make it difficult for lawyers to justify discriminatory measures against Christian converts and would make it harder for lawyers to defend them and other religious minorities.

While the change has been in the pipeline for two years, it was recently approved by parliament in mid-May, according to a researcher from the Middle East Concern (MEC).

"In the past few weeks, religious minorities have started to draw attention to themselves, what to do and how to raise awareness," he said. "It is quite worrying because the changes that are being made, rather than protecting religious freedom at all, are trying to define exactly who follows or does not follow fundamental theology."

Before the law is implemented, it must be approved by the Guardian Council in Iran. It is unclear when this decision can be made.

The government has arrested Christian converts and sentenced them to vague terms of up to 15 years in vague terms, such as "acting against national security," said Mansour Borji, Article 18 advocacy director, in the webinar hosted by IOPHR. Over the past decade, these allegations have been used to replace more obvious religious allegations such as apostasy, he said. This veiling of violations of religious freedom by shying away from terms such as "apostasy" was largely due to international pressure, according to Article 18.

Proponents believe that these efforts to increase control may be the regime's response to the loss of its population's credibility in the face of economic difficulties and poor handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. As the crises increase in the country, religious minorities and Western Christianity could become an easy scapegoat.

"Many Christian groups and church leaders are concerned because this would further exacerbate their continued suffering from the Islamic regime," said the CSW expert.

Other religious minorities that would be affected by the law are Sunni and Sufi Muslims as well as the Bahá & # 39; í.

In addition to Shi'a Islam and Judaism, Christianity is one of the three recognized religions in Iran. However, protection only applies to a small number of recognized Christian groups, namely ethnically Christian Assyrians and Armenians.

All but a handful of churches offering their services in the local language, Farsi, have had to close since the Islamic revolution in the 1970s, Borji said in the webinar. The remaining churches are monitored to ensure that they are not attended by Muslim-born Iranians. Converts are forced to practice their belief in secret underground churches and are routinely harassed and arrested, he said.

Recent arrests

Most recently, four Iranian Christian converts accused of endangering state security and promoting Zionism followed an invitation from late May and, according to the MEC, faced Evin prison to serve five-year sentences.

Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafadar were released last July on bail of around $ 13,000 each. Everyone except Vafadar is married and has children.

The four belonged to nine Christian converts from the Iranian Church, who were arrested for a period of four weeks in early 2019. In October 2019, all nine were convicted of "acting against national security" and sentenced to five years in prison, which were appealed in February.

"It is of course very sad for those involved," said the MEC representative. "It's easy to say five years, but it's so difficult for the people who actually experience it."

The remaining five out of nine men were in Evin prison and could not bail after a disagreement with a judge over the choice of a defense lawyer.

About a year and a half ago, Iran determined which lawyers could defend political prisoners. The five didn't want to let go of the lawyer they chose, who wasn't on the list. This angered the judge and prompted him to pay the exorbitant deposit, the MEC researcher said.

They were immediately transferred to Evin Prison after failing to cover the $ 130,000 bail, according to the MEC.

Reduction in rates

After an appeal, three other Christian converts sentenced to 10 years in prison received a reduction in their prison terms.

The sentences against Pastors Yousef Nadarkhani and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie have been reduced to six years, according to the MEC, and to Mohammadreza (Yuhan) Omidi to two years.

Omidi should be released in July. The decision about a fourth church member who was arrested and sentenced at the same time, Yasser Mossaybezadeh, was not yet known.

The men will appeal again, said the expert at CSW.

The men and their families hoped that the sentences would be lifted completely, the MEC expert said, since they should not have been in prison at all.

"On the one hand, it's great that it was reduced, on the other hand, they expected more," he said.

Hearing delayed

An appeal hearing to review the cases of Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, his wife Shamiram Issavi Khabizeh and three Christian converts was canceled without reason, according to the MEC.

Proponents aren't sure why the appeal was delayed, but the Tamraz case may have been released, the MEC researcher said. There are many inconsistencies and errors in handling the case, which could be another reason for the delay. Constantly late hearings are also often used as a nuisance, he added.

New arrests

According to a CSW press release, four other Christians of the Iranian church denomination have been accused of spreading "Zionist Evangelical Christianity" and "home church meetings".

On June 19, they received a subpoena from the Third Division of the Prosecutor's Office and the Tehran Revolutionary Procuratorate.

Judges Hassan Babaie and Zenjani signed a judgment based on Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code, which according to the CSW criminalizes the creation of groups that aim to "overthrow the system".

Iran ranked ninth on the World Watch List 2020 of the Christian support organization Open Doors in the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

© 2020 Morning Star News.

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