Editor’s Note: Last October, the Iranian parliament voted in favour of a draft bill which would make the death penalty compulsory for all male apostates, while female apostates must live out their years in prison. If this bill is passed it will jeopardise the future of all Baha’is and Christian in Iran. The bill was hardly mentioned in the international press.
by Theresa Malinowska (Guardian UK)
In Iran, Christians like Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Amirzadeh face detention without charge, just for practising their beliefs
There’s no shortage of press coverage on Iran. Its ambitious nuclear programme combines with a steady flow of delusional commentary from President Ahmadinejad to ensure it a permanent presence on the international media stage.
What we rarely get to hear about in detail is the damage the Iranian ruling elite causes its own citizens on a daily basis.
Since the Islamic revolution, the 300,000-strong Baha’i community has faced consistent discrimination in Iran. They’ve been the victims of extrajudicial killings and unexplained disappearances. According to the community, 40 Baha’is are currently being detained in prison for no other “crime” than practicing their own beliefs. This number includes members of their national leadership. Baha’is are still banned from receiving higher education.
Although members of historical Christian minorities, such as Armenians, enjoy relative freedom in Iran, the story is different for those who have converted to Christianity from Islam.
Muslim converts to different faiths face intimidation, not only from their own families, but also from the Iranian authorities. They are regularly threatened, assaulted and detained without charges, or even executed. There are roughly 10,000 Christians from Muslim backgrounds in Iran and their experiences have not been very different to those of the Iranian Baha’i community.
Their stories and cries for help regularly get ignored by the international community, despite the fact that the freedom to change religion is clearly enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirzadeh, 30, are currently being held in the notorious Evin prison. These women are both converts to Christianity from Islam, and have been imprisoned without charge since 5 March, when police officers searched their home.
Maryam and Marzieh suffered sleep deprivation as part of the police interrogation process and are now sharing a cell with 27 other women. The women are known to be practicing Christians.
CSW’s research claims that there were more than 22 similar cases of apostates who were arrested and released during 2006. The story is usually the same. The victims are released following hefty bail payments, but are never given the opportunity to challenge their illegal detention. They are then left to patch up their lives and face the social stigma of being “apostates” in their communities.
Life in Iran may get even more challenging for “apostates” in the coming years.
Last October, the Iranian parliament voted in favour of a draft bill which would make the death penalty compulsory for all male apostates, while female apostates must live out their years in prison. If this bill is passed it will jeopardise the future of all Baha’is and Christian converts in Iran. The bill was hardly mentioned in the international press.
In light of that, there was something deeply ironic about President Ahmadinejad standing at the UN’s recent conference on racism, unashamedly lecturing the world on human rights. It is tragic to see the language of human rights manipulated in this way. Whatever President Ahmadinejad may say, hundreds of thousands of Iranians are having their voices silenced and their dignity destroyed, even as I write.