Editor’s Note: The Iranian government is currently debating the adoption of a proposed penal code that would mandate the death penalty for apostates. This will have severe consequences not only for Baha’i prisoners, but also for the estimated 300.000 Christians.
LOS ANGELES, February 9 (Compass Direct News) – Arrested on Jan. 21 in Tehran, converts from Islam Jamal Galishorani and his wife Nadereh Jamali have been released on bail with an open case, though charges against them are still unknown, sources told Compass.
Authorities released Galishorani yesterday, and officials at Evin Prison freed his wife last week. Iranian Christians and international human rights agencies have feared that they could be charged with “apostasy,” or leaving Islam – potentially punishable by execution in the Shia Islamic republic.
A third Christian also arrested in Tehran on Jan. 21, Armenian Hamik Khachikian, was released after one week without charges.
The Galishoranis and Khachikian are members of Tehran’s Assemblies of God Church, an officially registered church, and were said to have held Bible studies in their home. The arrests of the Galishoranis and Khachikian, according to a source, are just part of the government’s increased harassment of Iran’s Christians.
“The pressure is continuous,” the source said. “In the past it came and went with waves.”
Possible Apostasy Charge
Sources told Compass that Mahmoude Azadeh, a 55-year-old Christian who has been incarcerated in Mashhad since last August, could face charges of apostasy.
He is expected to learn of exact charges, which also could include forming a Christian house group and propagating Christianity, at a Mashhad court hearing on Thursday (Feb. 12).
Azadeh has been in jail since security agents raided his house church in Nishapur; five others arrested with him were released shortly after. Azadeh has spent two months of his time in jail in solitary confinement, the sources said.
He was first arrested in June 2007 in Nishapur for two days, and after he and his family moved to Isfahan, authorities arrested him there in September of the same year, a source said.
In 2008, there were 73 documented arrests of Christians in Iran. A source working closely with churches in Iran expects there to be more arrests this year. A high-profile church leader was also taken into custody this year, the source said, and is still being held.
“With elections coming this year, there will be more arrests,” the source said. “The regime rules through fear, and they want Christians to be afraid.”
In addition to the approaching spring elections, the source said, exaggerated estimates of conversions by well-intentioned ministries outside of Iran may be contributing to reasons for the government’s increased scrutiny of the church.
“One minister in America claimed that in 2008 alone, 800,000 Iranians came to Christ,” the source said, adding that the government viewed such a high number of converts as a genuine threat to its rule and began to clamp down on churches.
The source noted that many Iranians wear Zoroastrian symbols and crucifixes merely as acts of rebellion against the government. “This doesn’t always mean that they are true believers,” he said.
The recent spate of arrests also included Baha’is.
As many Iranian Christians are either in prison or awaiting trial, the government continues to debate the adoption of a proposed penal code that would mandate the death penalty for apostates. The Iranian Parliament approved the new penal code last September, and the Guardian Council has yet to rule on it.
The council is made up of six conservative theologians appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by Parliament. In the past, death sentences for apostasy were issued only under judicial interpretations of sharia (Islamic law).
The proposed legislation in the Iranian Parliament would make the death penalty mandatory for male apostates, while women convicted of apostasy would receive life in prison at most.
Many Iranian Christians believe the arrests in January mark the beginning of a renewed crackdown.
[Source: Compass Direct News at http://compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=lead&lang=en&length=long&idelement=5803]