Death penalty for apostasy ‘totally unacceptable’, says German bishop

Death penalty for apostasy ‘totally unacceptable’, says German bishop

Bishop Martin Schindehütte (Photo:

A German bishop has condemned the passing through the Iranian parliament of a bill that would prescribe the death penalty for apostasy from Islam, calling it “totally unacceptable”.

Bishop Martin Schindehütte, who presides over foreign affairs for the German Evangelical Church, said the bill, which passed through the parliament on 9 September, “makes a mockery of all the principles of respectful relations between religions”.

The bill must still be confirmed by the Guardian Council before becoming law, and Bishop Schindehütte said: “I can only hope it doesn’t come to that. This law would constitute a fundamental violation of human rights.” 

The law would prescribe the death penalty for those who renounce Islam after accepting it as an adult either from a Muslim background (fitri) or non-Muslim (milli). In the latter case, the apostate would have the opportunity to be “guided” to repentance for three days after a death sentence was issued, but if they still did not repent, the execution would be carried out.

Bishop Schindehütte said it was “understandable” for a religious group to make its own judgments on religious matters, but insisted that “this should not lead to such severe restrictions on the religious freedom of other individuals and belief groups”. 

“These individuals and groups should also have the right to choose their own specific religious identity,” he said.

Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides for religious freedom including the freedom to change one’s beliefs, the bishop warned that the Islamic Republic was increasingly distancing itself from the international community and international legal standards.

The bishop said he feared the harassment of Christian converts and hostility towards them would only “worsen” if the law were passed, and result in the threat of increased abuse and acts of violence, and that even those churches which until now had been tolerated may also now be targeted. 

Bishop Schindehütte  added that next month’s scheduled dialogue between the German Protestant Church and other European Churches with Iranian Shiite representatives must now centre on the topic of “religious freedom and human rights”, and the Shia representatives must “be clear where they stand” on the issue.

The Iranian government has been suppressing Christians for years, especially converts, and has closed Persian-speaking churches.

Pastor Hossein Soodmand, who converted to Christianity before the 1979 revolution, was executed in Mashhad in December 1990 on charges of apostasy, after years of harassment, threats and arrests, and the forced closure of his church.

Human rights organisations have repeatedly condemned the Iranian government for violating the rights of minorities, but the Islamic Republic continues its policy of discrimination and suppression.

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