Iran and apostasy
The Iranian Parliament has given provisional approval, by a majority of 196 to seven, to a bill that mandates the death penalty for apostasy from Islam. Until now, Iranian judges could impose the death penalty in such cases only on the basis of Islamic law and fatwas, not on the basis of Iranian law.
The bill prescribes a mandatory death sentence for any male Muslim who converts from Islam to another religion, and lifelong imprisonment for female converts from Islam. It also gives the Iranian secular courts authority to convict Iranians living outside the country of crimes relating to Iranian national security.
It seems likely that this could be used against the many Iranian Christians who live outside Iran but are involved in evangelism within it. Apostasy from Islam is viewed by most Muslims as equivalent to treason.
The bill, which was drafted earlier this year, is now being reviewed in parliament, giving MPs the opportunity to amend it. Before it becomes law the bill will also be vetted by the Council of Guardians, a twelve-member legislative body with the power to veto any bill that does not conform to Islamic law and the constitution.
Article 23 of the Iranian constitution states that ‘the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief’. Iran is also a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of belief.
‘The provisional approval of this bill has serious implications for Iranian Christian converts, who already face much persecution from the authorities’, says Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund. ‘It seems that the Iranian government is willing to continue on its course of complete Islamisation at the expense of the most basic human rights and in contradiction to Article 23 of the Iranian constitution. The Iranian Church needs our prayers more than ever’.