Apostasy never codified in Iranian law ‘due to international pressure’

Apostasy never codified in Iranian law ‘due to international pressure’

Rev Hossein Soodmand’s hanging for “apostasy” in 1990 remains the only such example among the Iranian Christian community, though others have been sentenced to death for the “crime” or killed outside of court.

Iran refrained from codifying the “crime” of apostasy in its penal code due to fears of an international outcry, a retired judge involved in revising the text has admitted.

“At one time, I was in the process of approving the Islamic penal bill, and apostasy was supposed to be included in our criminal code, but it was left out for fear of international pressure,” Alireza Mirkamali said during a roundtable discussion organised by state media.

The comments, made late last year, were brought to light earlier today by VOA News.

As the final drafting of the bill took place a decade ago, it appeared that apostasy – as well as the punishment of stoning – were to be written into law, but this never happened, and now Mr Mirkamali’s comments show clearly that international pressure was a factor.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, commented: “The recent admission demonstrates that the Iranian authorities do respond to public advocacy when enough pressure is exerted by the international community.

“One of the first advocacy projects that Article18, in partnership with CSW, undertook was to raise awareness about this bill, and its threat to freedom of religion and belief, leading to international condemnation, and responses from the Iranian Christian community and wider Church.”

Converts from Islam can still be charged with “apostasy” – due to Article 167 of Iran’s constitution, which allows for judges to refer to Sharia (Islamic law) in areas not codified by law – but in practice the charge is rarely brought.

While converts are routinely threatened with execution for apostasy – as some Islamic scholars argue is justifiable under Sharia – only once has an Iranian Christian convert been executed for the “crime”: Rev Hossein Soodmand, back in 1990.

Others, such as Yousef Nadarkhani and Mehdi Dibaj, have also been sentenced to death for the “crime”, but in both cases these sentences were revoked due to international pressure.

Rev Mehdi Dibaj was also sentenced to death, but released after an international outcry. He was killed five months later.

Mehdi Dibaj was released in January 1994, though he was murdered five months later; Yousef Nadarkhani was released in 2010, and he is now back in prison.

A number of verses in the Quran have been interpreted to mean that apostates should be killed, as well as an important hadith from 17th century Shia scholar Mohammad-Baqer Majlesi, and a fatwa from Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, who stated: “A national apostate will be caused to repent and in case of refusing to repent will be executed.” 

Khomeini added that a female apostate should be imprisoned for life, beaten during times of prayer, and given only a small amount of food, unless she repents.

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