Iran bulldozes grave of pastor executed for apostasy

Iran bulldozes grave of pastor executed for apostasy

All that now remains of the pastor’s unmarked grave is the soil under which he was once buried.

The grave of the only Iranian Christian to have been executed on official charges of apostasy has been demolished.

The body of Rev Hossein Soodmand was buried on the edge of the Beheshte-Reza cemetery in Mashhad after his execution nearly 30 years ago, in December 1990.

In all the years since, the only sign that anyone was buried there was a concrete slab. Now, even that has been removed.

When the family went to pay their respects on the anniversary of his execution, on 3 December, all that remained was soil.

The pastor’s daughter, Rashin Soodmand, who now lives in Europe, gave her reaction to Article18:

“As a member of the family of this martyred pastor, I can say that the recent disrespect shown to our father’s grave wounded our hearts yet again.

“Our father was killed cruelly and contrary to the law. They buried him in a place they called la’anatabad [accursed place], without our knowledge, and did not even give our family the opportunity to say goodbye to him, or to see his lifeless body.

“For years we had to travel to this remote place to visit his unmarked grave, and we were not even allowed to construct a gravestone bearing his name.

“And now they want to completely remove the only sing of him left for us. We will take our appeal to any relevant national or international institution about this disrespect and cruelty.”

Pastor Soodmand converted to Christianity before the Islamic revolution and was active in Christian organisations including the Bible Society, and led the Episcopolican church of Isfahan and later the Assemblies of God church in Mashhad. 

He was arrested in 1990 and was tortured and held in solitary confinement for one month.

During a short furlough from prison, his friends advised him to leave the country to save his life, but the pastor preferred to stay, saying to his worried friends:

“By following the example of the great shepherd of the flock, the Lord Jesus Christ, I am willing to sacrifice my life for my sheep. My escape from these dangers would weaken the flock of God and discourage them. I don’t want to be a bad example to them, so I am ready to go to jail again and, if necessary, even to give my life for them.”

Two weeks after resubmitting himself to prison, the pastor was executed after being convicted of apostasy by a special court of clergy. His family was informed after the execution had been carried out.

Rev Soodmand remains the only Iranian Christian to have been executed for apostasy following an official court order, although others have been sentenced to death including Rev Mehdi Dibaj and Yousef Nadarkhani

Rev Dibaj was eventually acquitted after nine years in prison but then killed in suspicious circumstances five months later. His body was found days after his disappearance, in a park in a suburb of Tehran, with multiple stab wounds to his chest. 

Yousef Nadarkhani was also eventually acquitted of the charge but later rearrested on the now much more common charge of “actions against national security”. He is now serving a ten-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Continued destruction of Christian symbols

In the past four decades, there have been numerous reports of the destruction of religious-minority cemeteries, including those of Baha’is, Mandaeans and Christians, as well as those of the victims of the mass killings of political prisoners in 1988. 

Most recently, late last month unidentified people desecrated part of the 15th century Armenian cemetery in Isfahan, as reported by Mohabat News. Crosses and tombstones were broken in the cemetery, which was listed among national heritage sites 18 years ago.

The Islamic Republic has not only closed down and confiscated Persian-speaking churches; it has also destroyed historical churches and monuments in recent years.