Iranian Christian convert faces deportation from Turkey, separation from paraplegic son

Iranian Christian convert faces deportation from Turkey, separation from paraplegic son

Bigan Farokhpour Haghighi with his son, Sina, who is 17 years old.

An Iranian Christian convert faces imminent deportation from Turkey, which would separate him from his wife and paraplegic son and risk his re-arrest and imprisonment.

Bigan Farokhpour Haghighi, who is 48 years old, is currently in a camp in Antalya, southwest Turkey, awaiting deportation, having failed with his appeals to two Turkish courts. 

He was taken to the camp on Thursday last week, 29 April, even though he still awaits the result of a third appeal – to the Supreme Court in Ankara – against the December 2019 verdict.

The deportation notice was served because of Bigan’s alleged failure to sign at a local police station in their resident city of Denizli for three consecutive months – something he denies.

His wife, Marzieh, told Article18 that Bigan had even asked the officials to check the cameras on the dates he attended, but that they responded that they could not do so. 

Bigan and Marzieh have been together in Turkey with their son, Sina, who is 17, since 2018, when they applied for asylum with the UNHCR as a result of the persecution they had faced in Iran as Christian converts. 

They initially applied for asylum years earlier, with Bigan facing a three-year prison sentence for his membership of a house-church.

But when they learned that the lawyer defending Bigan was going to have his licence revoked, and that the elderly couple who had paid for Bigan’s bail were going to lose their house, Bigan felt compelled to return. 

“I returned to Iran because of my humanity and faith,” he explained in a January 2020 interview with the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. “It was not right in God’s sight for me to want to stay with my family in Turkey and have the house documents of an old man and woman, who were really not in a very good condition. If I stayed in Turkey, their house would be 100% confiscated.”

So Bigan returned to Iran and submitted himself to Adel Abad Prison in Shiraz. 

He was released on parole nine months later on the condition that he leave Iran immediately. 

“You have to leave Iran or we will arrest you again,” Bigan was told. “Like your other friends who were arrested again. You will face heavier sentences and deportation!”

“We know your family is in Turkey,” his interrogators added. “We even know which city they’re in. We know all this. If you leave the country, you won’t have a problem, but if you stay and make a mistake, we will sentence you to prison many times over. Let this be a reminder! We accept your conditional release on these terms! Sign it!” 

So Bigan did sign, received his parole, left the prison – and Iran – and joined his family in Denizli.

Bigan with his wife, Marzieh, and their son Sina.

But now he faces the threat of another enforced separation from his family and return to Iran, and all the dangers that may entail, including Bigan’s promised re-arrest and imprisonment.

Bigan has gone on the record as saying he converted to Christianity because of the “suffocating” pressure of the Iranian regime, and he has already been sentenced to 50 lashes for his conversion – a sentence that was eventually changed to a hefty fine.

The judge who sentenced him in 2013, at the revolutionary court in Shiraz, Seyed Mahmood  Sadati, even told him explicitly that Christian converts like Bigan must be “stopped”, and threatened him with a 10-year sentence.

“We have no problem with those who inherit religion from their parents being in our country,” Judge Sadati said. “But not those who leave Islam and join other religions. We have a problem with these people, and we must help them and guide them and prevent them from deviating in this way! They are being misled and they are misleading others! 

“That is why we must stop them – from now on – so that they do not cause others to deviate. The imprisonment of these people and the flogging of this gentleman [Bigan] should be an example for the rest of those who like to change their religion for any reason – that this is not something we can change!”

And because Bigan is from a family of direct descent from the prophet Muhammad, the judge mandated that his 50 lashes should be carried out with maximum force, and that his sentence should not be repealed.

“The government of the Islamic Republic is completely opposed to those who change their religion … and either become Baha’is, or Christians, or Jews, or Zoroastrians,” Bigan explained in his 2020 interview. “For this reason, the government infiltrates or pursues these converts, in an attempt to destroy them or prevent them from further meetings, because the repetition of these meetings, and the addition of new members to each group, is in a way to the detriment of the Islamic Republic of Iran. That’s why [agents] come and arrest these converts – to put pressure on them, harass them, take their belongings, their money, their jewellery, or anything. And no-one can complain.”

Bigan, who was a handicraftsman in Iran, had many of his personal belongings confiscated when he was arrested, including several tools handed down to him by his father, from whom he learned his trade. 

The tools were never given back, and after his release Bigan’s work permit was revoked, while the medical centre where his son went for treatment refused to care for him any longer.

“I was told, ‘Your license has been revoked and you cannot work at all!’” Bigan explained. “I said, ‘So what should I do?’ And the agents said: ‘You can go and buy a taxi!’ I said that I work at home and I love my job and want to continue. They said, ‘If you continue, you will get into trouble again!’”

The threat of deportation has been hanging over Bigan since he first arrived in Turkey.

In his 2020 interview, Bigan said: “In 2014, I had to send my wife and paraplegic child to Turkey to seek asylum. In my absence, they suffered a lot. If I am deported now, what will be their fate now? 

“We have many problems in Turkey. Our asylum insurance has been terminated and we do not have a work permit. Wherever they find out that we are Christians, they treat us badly. On the other hand, we are under pressure from the Islamic Republic not to return. We are asking for help.”

A petition to stop their deportation has been created through 

“Extradition of a political refugee to the country from which he or she fled is prohibited under Article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” human rights lawyer Hossein Ahmadiniaz told Article18.

“As a member of the United Nations, Turkey is a signatory of this and other international conventions and is bound to comply with its rules. If the deportation goes ahead, Turkey should face prosecution by the European Court of Human Rights.”

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