Release of Iranian Apostates Garners Praise, Caution

( [email protected] ) Oct 05, 2008 02:39 PM EDT

A ministry leader who works with the persecuted Church described the release of two Iranian apostates this past week as a “wonderful development,” but cautioned that danger may await the Muslims turned Christians.

“I don’t think anyone can say with certainty that the religious liberty situation is improving in Iran,” said Dr. Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, to The Christian Post on Friday.

“The legislative and social framework is not yet in place to guarantee religious freedom rights for Christians, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, or any other non-Shia Muslim in Iran.”

Moeller, however, called the release of the converts a “wonderful development,” while adding that rights groups now need to monitor what happens to the former Muslims after they’re freed.

A few years ago, the ministry leader recalled, there was a wave of religious persecution in which Christians were arrested and then released. However, after their release, Christians were assaulted or killed by “unknown, non-judicial sources” in Iran.

“So this could possibly happen again,” Moeller warned.

The two Christian converts – Mahmoud Mohammad Matin-Azad, 53, and Arash Ahmad-Ali Basirat, 40 – were released from jail after a tribunal ruled that their charges were invalid, news agencies reported Thursday.

This was the first time that Christians had been released after a trial, according to Voice of the Martyrs.

Matin-Azad and Basirat had been detained since May 15 and were charged with apostasy just days before Iran’s parliament gave its initial approval to a bill that would make apostasy punishable by death.

The apostasy bill, which has been heavily condemned by the international community, has been sent back to the Legislative Commission for debate before it will be brought back to the Parliament for another vote.

According to Open Doors sources in Iran, there is a “very high likelihood” that the bill will be ratified into law.

“The sentiment in the parliament is quite strong on this,” Moeller said. “It is one of those bills that has very little support against it because there is no benefit politically for anyone in Iran to stand up for the rights of minority religions.”

If the bill passes, as expected, “the screws will be turned even tighter” on Christians, especially Muslim background believers, Moeller predicts.

It will also create additional pressure on anyone who wants to make a public stand for their conversion, as well as cause a “chilling” effect on those considering Christianity.

Under the law’s great pressure, Moeller foresees how many who were open to Christianity will choose to turn back to Islam.

But the Iranian people should not be blamed for the law. Even though the bill has strong support in the parliament, Moeller said it’s unlikely that the Iranian people also approve of the intolerant legislation.

OD sources in Iran say that a conservative estimate places 60 to 70 percent of the general populace against the regime of Ahmadinejad and the hardline stance that Iran has taken against the West.

Yet even against the will of its own people, the parliament is most likely to pass the apostasy bill.

Iran is ranked third in Open Doors’ World Watch List of countries with the worst persecution of Christians. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also lists Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern,” a label given to countries with the worst religious freedom abuses.