Iranian Judicial Authorities Order the Release of Ramtin Soodmand

According to news received by FCNN, the judicial authorities have ordered the release of our brother Ramtin Soodmand.

In this report received, Ramtin’s lawyer, who had been in telephone contact with the judicial court of Mashhad and the office of Mr. Mottaghi, the local prosecutor, announced that subsequent to negotiations conducted between the Ministry of Information central offices in Tehran and the Christian representative of Iranian Christian community, Mr. Forootan who is the assistant to the judge, ordered the release of Ramtin Soodmand subject to the posting of a bail and other legal restrictions. He was to be released on Thursday October 16, 2008, but due to the weekend holidays the date has been postponed.

It is important to remember that Ramtin Soodmand, who is the official minister of the Evangelical Church of Iran in Mashhad, was arrested and detained by the officers of the ministry of information on August 21, 2008.

His lawyer, in filing papers with the court regarding the illegality of his client’s arrest and the violation of his rights, under the current law, to be formally charged and bail hearing to be conducted within 10 days of his arrest, strongly protested that actions of the government.

Finally, Ramtin was formally charged with the crime of anti-government activities, a charge which his lawyer strongly denied and demanded the release of his client. So far, there has been no date set for Ramtin’s trail by the judge.

FCNN reiterates that these charges are unfounded and false. The real reason for his arrest is the fact that he is a Muslim convert who is involved in Christian ministry. Also, it must be mentioned that another Christian minister, Shroder Ashur, an Assyrian minister, who was also charged with the crime of propagation of Christianity, was recently released in the city of Urumieh on October 5, 2008.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper recently carried a moving article about Ramtin Soodmand, a 35-year-old Iranian Christian who was arrested on the 20th August and is presently in prison awaiting charges. Amnesty International have identified Ramtin as a prisoner of conscience. They state, “He is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment and is being held in an unknown location. He is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately as he has been detained solely for his religious beliefs.”

Amnesty report, “Ramtin Soodmand has not been seen since he went to the Ministry of Intelligence office in Mashhad on 20 August. Since being detained he has been able to make three short phone calls to his family. On or around 24 August, he made a phone call to his mother, who lives in Mashhad. He then made a second call to both his mother and wife on 31 August. The third call was to his wife on 6 September. On all three occasions, he did not say where he was being held. His family have visited the Ministry of Intelligence frequently but have been unable to obtain any information on his whereabouts or legal status. The Ministry of Intelligence officials claim that his case is still under investigation.”

Ramtin’s father, Reverend Hossein Soodmand, was a Muslim who converted to Christianity in the 1960s, and became a Protestant pastor in Mashhad. He was hanged on 3 December 1990 in a prison in Mashhad after being convicted of apostasy; see Iran: Arrest and execution of a Christian pastor (Index: MDE 13/030/1990). He was also featured in Amnesty International’s Annual Report 1991.

The Telegraph journalist Alasdair Palmer interviewed Ramtin’s sister, Rashin, who is presently living in London. Like others, I have lobbied my contacts in Iran, on Ramtin’s behalf. Article 23 of Iran’s Constitution, “the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”

Under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

Amnesty recommend the following action:

Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English, Persian, Arabic or your own language:

– expressing concern that Ramtin Soodmand has been detained solely on account of his religious belief and is a prisoner of conscience;
– calling on the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, or charge him promptly with a recognizably criminal offence and give him a fair trial;
– asking why he has been arrested, what he has been charged with and where he is held;
– urging the authorities to ensure that he is not being tortured or otherwise ill-treated, and that he be provided immediate and regular access to his family, a lawyer and any medical treatment that he may require;
– reminding the authorities that freedom of religious belief is guaranteed by the Iranian Constitution, and by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.

Appeal to:

Minister of Intelligence
Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie
Ministry of Information
Second Negarestan Street
Pasdaran Avenue
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: iranprobe@iranprobe.com
Salutation: Your Excellency

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh / Office of the Head of the Judiciary
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri, Tehran 1316814737, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: info@dadgostary-tehran.ir (In subject line write: FAO Ayatollah Shahroudi)
Salutation: Your Excellency

Further addresses are available here

Superficial Interfaith Dialogue

In July I appeared on Iranian TV, to debate with the Chief Rabbi of Vienna and an Islamic scholar in the USA. The programme was about an interfaith conference being held in Spain and sponsored by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. In our conversation I said that most interfaith dialogue is superficial because it usually does not address the three most fundamental religious human rights – the right to express one’s faith, the right to share one’s faith and the right to change one’s faith. While in the West sadly, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are apparently increasing, in many Middle East countries, Christians cannot express their faith without fear of arrest or worse. What is the best way to break this spiral of fear, mistrust and persecution? We must show solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted, and work with those of other faiths who are also committed to international law and human rights. Brother Andrew’s book Light Force gives some more ideas. Read my review here

Here is the article from Saturday’s Telegraph Hanged for being a Christian in Iran

Eighteen years ago, Rashin Soodmand’s father was hanged in Iran for converting to Christianity. Now her brother is in a Mashad jail, and expects to be executed under new religious laws brought in this summer. Alasdair Palmer reports.

A month ago, the Iranian parliament voted in favour of a draft bill, entitled “Islamic Penal Code”, which would codify the death penalty for any male Iranian who leaves his Islamic faith. Women would get life imprisonment. The majority in favour of the new law was overwhelming: 196 votes for, with just seven against.

Imposing the death penalty for changing religion blatantly violates one of the most fundamental of all human rights. The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in the European Convention of Human Rights. It is even enshrined as Article 23 of Iran’s own constitution, which states that no one may be molested simply for his beliefs.

And yet few politicians or clerics in Iran see any contradiction between a law mandating the death penalty for changing religion and Iran’s constitution. There has been no public protest in Iran against it.

David Miliband, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, stands out as one of the few politicians from any Western country who has put on record his opposition to making apostasy a crime punishable by death. The protest from the EU has been distinctly muted; meanwhile, Germany, Iran’s largest foreign trading partner, has just increased its business deals with Iran by more than half. Characteristically, the United Nations has said nothing.

It is a sign of how little interest there is in Iran’s intention to launch a campaign of religious persecution that its parliamentary vote has still not been reported in the mainstream media.

For one woman living in London, however, the Iranian parliamentary vote cannot be brushed aside. Rashin Soodmand is a 29-year-old Iranian Christian. Her father, Hossein Soodmand, was the last man to be executed in Iran for apostasy, the “crime” of abandoning one’s religion. He had converted from Islam to Christianity in 1960, when he was 13 years old. Thirty years later, he was hanged by the Iranian authorities for that decision.

Today, Rashin’s brother, Ramtin, is also held in a prison cell in Mashad, Iran’s holiest city. He was arrested on August 21. He has not been charged but he is a Christian. And Rashin fears that, just as her father was the last man to be executed for apostasy in Iran, her brother may become one of the first to be killed under Iran’s new law.

Not surprisingly, Rashin is desperately worried. “I am terribly anxious about him,” she explains. “Even though my brother is not an apostate, because he has never been a Muslim – my father raised us all as Christians – I don’t think he is safe. They assume that if you are Iranian, you must be Muslim.”

Her brother’s situation has ominous echoes of her father’s fate. Rashin was 14 when her father was arrested. “He was held in prison for one month,” she remembers. “Then the religious police released him without explanation and without apology. We were overjoyed. We thought his ordeal was over.”

But six months later, the police came back and took her father away again. This time, they offered him a choice: he could denounce his Christian faith, and the church in which he was a pastor – or he would be killed. “Of course, my father refused to give up his faith,” Rashid recalls proudly. “He could not renounce his God. His belief in Christ was his life – it was his deepest conviction.” So two weeks later, Hossein Soodmand was taken by guards to the prison gallows and hanged.

Life for Rashin, her siblings and her mother became extremely difficult. Some Muslims are extremely hostile to people of any other religion, never mind to those who they consider apostates: Ayatollah Khomeini declared that “non-Muslims are impure”, insisting that for Muslims to wash the clothes of non-Muslims, or to eat food with non-Muslims, or even to use utensils touched by non-Muslims, would spoil their purity.

The family was supported with financial and other help from a Christian church based in Iran. That support became even more critical as Rashin’s mother began to lose her sight. Rashin herself was eventually able to leave Iran. She now lives in London, married to a fellow Christian from Iran who successfully applied for asylum in Germany.

It took years for Rashin to understand how her father could have been legally executed simply for becoming a Christian. In 1990, there was no parliamentary law mandating the death for apostates. What, then, was the legal basis for Hossein Soodmand’s execution?

“After the revolution of 1979, Iran’s rulers wanted to turn Iran into an Islamic state, and to abolish the secular laws of the Shah,” explains Alexa Papadouris of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organisation that specialises in freedom of religion. “So the clerics instituted a mandate for judges presiding over criminal cases: if the existing penal code did not include legislation on whether a certain kind of behaviour is an offence, then the judges should refer to traditional Islamic jurisprudence.” In other words: sharia law.

“That automatically created problems” says Mr Papadouris, “because Islamic jurisprudence is not codified law: it is a series of formulations developed across generations by scholars and clerics. Depending on the Islamic school or historical era, these formulations can differ and even contradict each other.”

On one subject, however, sharia law is unequivocal: men who change their religion from Islam must be punished with death. So when the judge heard the case of Rashid’s father, he could refer to sharia and reach a straightforward decision: the death penalty. There was no procedure for appeal.

Nevertheless, in the 18 years since Hossein Soodmand’s execution, there have been no judicially sanctioned killings of apostates in Iran, although there have been many reports of disappearances and even murders. “As the number of converts from Islam grows,” notes Ms Papadouris, “apostasy has again become a serious concern for the Iranian government.” In addition to 10,000 Christian converts living in Iran, there are several hundred thousand Baha’is who are deemed apostates.

There is another factor: President Ahmadinejad. “The President didn’t initiate the law mandating the death penalty for apostates,” says Papadouris, “but he has been lobbying for it. It is an effective form of playing populist politics. The Iranian economy is doing very badly, and the country is in a mess: Ahmadinejad may be calculating that he can gain support, and deflect attention from Iran’s problems, by persecuting apostates.”

The new law is not yet in force in Iran: it requires another vote in parliament, and then the signature of the Ayatollah. But that could happen within a matter of weeks. “Or,” says Papadouris, “it could conceivably be allowed to drop, were there a powerful enough international outcry”.

Time may be running out for Rashin’s brother. She believes that the new law will be applied in an arbitrary fashion, with individuals selected for death being chosen to frighten others into submission. That is why she fears for her brother. “We just don’t know what will happen to him. We only know that if they want to kill him, they will.”

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