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9/6/06

Iran Releases Jailed Convert to Christianity

By Barbara G. Baker

Judge accuses his 8-year-old daughter of trying to convert other children.

ISTANBUL, September 4 (Compass Direct News) – One month after ordering his arrest, Iranian court authorities in the northern city of Rasht have released Christian convert Issa Motamedi Mojdehi, declaring the former Muslim “free for the moment.”


Issa Motamedi Mojdehi

Motamedi Mojdehi was granted bail August 24 on the basis of a written guarantee from a fellow Christian, who signed over his personal work charter to a revolutionary court in order to obtain the prisoner’s release.

Although the initial drug charges that were the pretext for Motamedi Mojdehi’s arrest remain in his legal file, the judge introduced new accusations against him at his August 24 hearing.

According to unnamed “confidential witnesses,” the judge said, the convert’s 8-year-old daughter Martha allegedly had been trying to lead other children to the Christian faith.

Although religious freedom is guaranteed in Article 23 of the Iranian Constitution, in practice the theocratic regime strictly forbids the proselytizing of Muslims and targets any citizens believed to have abandoned Islam.

At the time of his arrest on July 24, the convert was told he must renounce Christianity or face years in jail and possible execution for his apostasy. Under Iran’s judicial system based on Islamic law, anyone who leaves Islam for another religion has committed a capital offense.

In mid-August, the jailed Christian had been summoned from his group cell in Lakan Prison by local officials, who reportedly tried for days to force him to confess to being involved in illegal drug trafficking.

Under strong psychological pressures, including threats to kill his family and other Christian believers, Motamedi Mojdehi was interrogated by secret service agents and a professor of Islamic theology, who urged him to recant his Christian faith and return to Islam.

When Motamedi Mojdehi refused to do so, officials returned him to prison, where a lawyer who had requested to represent him was allowed to meet with him for two hours on August 23. The following day authorities summoned Motamedi Mojdehi to court and released him.

After being reunited with his wife, Parvah, and his two children, Motamedi Mojdehi has reportedly moved his family to an undisclosed location. Now 31, he converted to Christianity seven years ago.

“Pray for me, that I would be stronger in my faith,” he told local believers, stating that the calmness and protection God gave to him during his weeks in prison were miraculous.


Nationwide Harassment

Ten days before Motamedi Mojdehi was released, Rasht police shut down the shop of another believer in his church. Although the church member was not arrested, an official told him, “Do not try to look for a way to open it again. This would be useless.”

Depriving converts to Christianity of their means of employment is the government’s way of “trying to asphyxiate the church,” one Iranian source told Compass. “A lot of brethren lost their jobs after the intervention of the security [police].” The officials’ objective, he said, is to force Christians to leave Iran permanently.

“We are taking your job,” a security official in Rasht told a Christian convert earlier this year. “You’d better leave the country.”

Government officials also push various Christian denominations to oppose and denounce each other, promising that police will not bother them if they discredit other churches, the Iranian Christian said.

In at least five other incidents within the past month, Iranian police have harassed and mistreated local converts to Christianity, some of whom have fled their hometowns to attempt to live more inconspicuously in large cities.

According to an August 19 release from Middle East Concern (MEC), an association advocating for the legal rights of the region’s Christian communities, the leaders of two house fellowships were arrested for 20 days and then released on bail.

“Another was beaten up in a park and then detained for a few days for allegedly beating his attackers,” MEC reported.

One Christian couple sought by police fled their northern town, escaping before local officers arrived to arrest them.

Meanwhile, in a southern city, police beat two young women in their homes, arresting one for several days. After her release, police began telephoning every day, threatening to re-arrest her as well as her brother and parents.


Activist Confirms Persecution

In a U.S. television interview last week, leading Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji listed Iran’s religious minorities among the many groups within Iranian society deprived of their basic human rights.

After six years in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison as Iran’s most celebrated prisoner of conscience, Ganji was released this past March.

“There are numerous people in prison in Iran, but their names are unknown, even to the people within Iran,” Ganji told the “Democracy Now” TV program last Wednesday (August 30).

These prisoners are kept in solitary confinement on no legal grounds, he said, with no access to books, newspapers or telephone; they get no legal representation and are deprived of meeting with their families.

“And they are under pressure to confess to charges of espionage,” Ganji said. “They bring them in front of the camera in the same way Stalin used to do and make them confess. And they will convict them to prison, sentence them, give them sentences based on these television shows.”

Religious believers subjected to state-sponsored oppression in Iran include Baha’is, Assyrian Christians, Catholics, Anglicans, Armenians, Evangelicals, Mandeans, Jews and Zoroastrians.


Copyright 2006 Compass Direct News

 

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