Christian converts’ adopted child to be removed from their care

Christian converts’ adopted child to be removed from their care

Lydia was just three months old when she was adopted by Iranian Christian converts Sam Khosravi and wife Maryam Falahi.

Now, just one month before her second birthday, a court has ruled she must be taken away from them, as Sam and Maryam – who are currently appealing against convictions related to their membership of a house-church – are “not fit” to be her parents.

The ruling, handed down by a court in their home city of Bushehr, southwestern Iran, on 19 July but not reported until now, was upheld by a court of appeal on Tuesday, 22 September, despite the judge in his initial verdict acknowledging that Lydia felt an “intense emotional attachment” to her adoptive parents and saying there was “zero chance” another adoptive family would be found for her, given Lydia’s health problems.

It is now anticipated that Iran’s State and Welfare Organisation will seek to remove Lydia from Sam and Maryam’s care as soon as they are made aware of the failed appeal.

And it is with the state, Sam and Maryam fear, that Lydia is likely to remain. Indeed, in his initial verdict Judge Muhammad Hassan Dashti acknowledged that Lydia faced an “uncertain future” and may spent “the rest of her life” in state care.

But that didn’t prevent him from ruling against Lydia’s adoptive parents – and for one reason: they are Christian converts, and Lydia, though her parentage is not known, is considered a Muslim, and as such by law ought only to be cared for by Muslim parents. 

Sam and Maryam maintain that they were always clear about their conversion to Christianity; however, the judge ruled that Lydia – a nominally “Muslim” child – should never have been placed in their care. 

This fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, one of the most senior clerics in Iran, declares Sam and Lydia’s adoption “permissible”.

In seeking to overturn the verdict, the couple’s lawyer managed to obtain two fatwas from Grand Ayatollahs – the most senior Shia Islamic authority in Iran – declaring that, owing to the “critical nature” of the case, poor health of the child and undisputed emotional attachment with her parents, Lydia’s adoption by Christian converts was “permissible”.

But the appeal court judges, in their short ruling, made no reference to the fatwas and only declared that they were upholding the ruling as they had not been presented with any “specific or reasonable evidence” to overturn it. 

In his initial ruling, Judge Dashti was clearly sympathetic, noting that “in 13 years of marriage, [Sam and Maryam] didn’t have a child to bring light and warmth to their home”, as well as bemoaning Lydia’s “uncertain future” and strong bond with her parents.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, explained that the wording the judge used indicated that his hands were tied.

“The verdict clearly demonstrates the unwillingness of the judge to hand down this sentence,” he said, “and that he was coerced by the representative of the Ministry of Intelligence. It is another clear example of the lack of independence of the judiciary in cases involving Christians.” 

What now?

The decision is a crushing blow to Sam and Maryam, for whom Lydia fulfilled a long-held dream, having been unable to have a child of their own.

This fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei declared that not only was the adoption “permissible” but that when Lydia grew up, she ought to have the right to choose her own faith.

And the initial ruling came less than a month after Sam was sentenced to a year in prison, followed by two year’s internal exile, for “propaganda against the state” – related to the couple’s membership of a house-church – while both Sam and Maryam were also banned from employment within their specialist professions.

Maryam has been a nurse for 20 years, while Sam works in the hospitality sector, but if their appeals fail, Maryam will no longer permitted to work for any national institution – including the hospital she has served for 20 years – while Sam will not permitted to work within the hospitality sector during his time in exile.

Maryam was also fined 8 million tomans (around $400) – equivalent to four months’ salary for the average Iranian.

Sam’s brother Sasan and his wife Marjan, who is Maryam’s sister, received similar sentences, as did three other converts.

L to R: Pooriya Peyma, Fatemeh Talebi, Maryam Falahi, Sam Khosravi, Habib Heydari, Sasan Khosravi, Marjan Falahi.

In his ruling, the judge named some of the Christian literature that had been confiscated from the converts’ homes, including copies of “Who is Jesus” and “Getting to know the Bible”. 

Article18’s Mansour Borji commented at the time: “Condemning these people to prison because of their possession of Bibles and Christian symbols is a clear demonstration that Iran’s Foreign Minister and others aren’t telling the truth when they say that ‘no-one is put in prison in Iran simply because of their beliefs’.

“These people have done nothing that could be construed as ‘propaganda against the state’ or ‘acting against national security’, but nevertheless they have been treated so unjustly. The international community must hold Iran to account for this miscarriage of justice, and many others like it.”

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