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ChurchWatch 09/16/08

Iranian Parliament Votes to Punish Apostasy from Islam with Death

According to Assist News Service, the Iranian Parliament voted last week for a bill mandating the death penalty for apostasy.

The bill was approved by 196 votes for, seven against, and two abstentions.

According to a news release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), news of the approval was withdrawn from the Iranian Parliament's Web site just hours after it was published.

However, CSW reported, it was published by official Iranian news agencies, including the IRINN (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network) and morning papers inside Iran such as Resalat. The news was also seen on Radio Farda's website.

CSW said the progress of this bill through the Iranian Parliament is a cause of grave concern for increasing numbers of Iranians who have left Islam for another religion, and a significant backwards step for human rights in Iran.

The draft bill will add a number of crimes to the list of those resulting in execution, among them, "establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy."

CSW said that recently, two Christians from Muslim backgrounds, 53-year-old Mahmoud Mohammad Matin-Azad and 40-year-old Arash Ahmad-Ali Basirat, were charged with apostasy at the Public and Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, Iran and are awaiting the court's verdict. The men have been in prison since May 15 2008.

CSW said the organization is very concerned that Matin-Azad and Basirat may face capital punishment if the proposed legislation on apostasy passes unchallenged through the final parliamentary processes and is enacted into law.

CSW is calling for their immediate release, and for the charges against them to be dropped in accordance with internationally-recognized human rights law.

The approved bill will be sent back to the Legislative Commission to debate proposed amendments before it is brought before parliament for a further vote.

Alexa Papadouris, Advocacy Director at CSW, said in a news release, "It is deeply worrying to hear that just days after Matin-Azad and Basirat have been charged with apostasy at a court in Shiraz, the Iranian Parliament is debating a bill that could codify the death penalty for someone choosing their own religion. We call upon the British Government and the European Union to officially respond to this new development and urge the Iranian Government to reject the bill and guarantee the immediate release of all who are detained on the basis of their religious beliefs alone."

For more information about Christian Solidarity worldwide, go to www.csw.org.uk

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