EU Pressures Iran to Drop Apostasy Bill

Michael Ireland | Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service | Wednesday, October 01, 2008

EU Pressures Iran to Drop Apostasy Bill


October 1, 2008

BRUSSELS (ANS) -- Christian converts from Muslim backgrounds and followers of the Bahá’í faith may be spared the death penalty after the European Union (EU) issued a declaration to Iran unveiling their concerns over the deterioration of religious freedom there.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the declaration, which was released by the Presidency of the EU on September 26, 2008 urges the Iranian Government to reconsider their plan to debate a draft bill on apostasy.

CSW says the proposed legislation stipulates that the death penalty should be used as a legal punishment for Iranians who convert from Islam to any other religion.

A specific challenge to the Iranian parliament is detailed in their declaration: “The European Union urges the Islamic Republic of Iran to reconsider its decision to examine the law in question, release all those who have been imprisoned because of their religious affiliation and allow all its citizens to exercise their freedom of religion or belief in full.“

The EU declaration also expresses distress over the arrests of other members of religious minority communities: “The European Union is deeply disturbed by the arrests since April of Iranian converts to Christianity and members of the Bahá’í community. It calls for their immediate and unconditional release and the cessation of all forms of violence and discrimination against them.”

CSW explains that the draft apostasy bill being debated in Iran was initially approved at a first stage vote by the Iranian parliament on Tuesday, September 9, with 196 votes for, seven against, and two abstentions. The bill, named the Islamic Penal Code, is currently due to be sent back to the Legislative Commission for amendments before being brought before the Iranian parliament for a further vote.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Advocacy Director, Tina Lambert, said: “We warmly welcome this strong reaction from the EU to Iran’s proposed apostasy bill. If the legislation is passed by the Iranian parliament there will be dire consequences for thousands of Christians and Bahá’ís living in Iran. "The international community must continue to urge the Iranian Government to release all those detained on the basis of their religious affiliation and respect their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. CSW joins the EU in requesting the Iranian parliament to drop this bill without delay.”

The "Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on the situation of people belonging to religious minorities in Iran" says the European Union "is very concerned at the deterioration in the exercise of freedom of religion or belief, and especially the freedom of worship, in Iran, where the pressure on people belonging to religious minorities has worsened in recent months.

"The European Union is deeply disturbed by the arrests since April of Iranian converts to Christianity and members of the Baha'i community. It calls for their immediate and unconditional release and the cessation of all forms of violence and discrimination against them."

It adds: "There have been many reports that people belonging to the Christian, Baha'i, Sufi and Sunni minorities in Iran are regularly suffering forms of persecution such as confiscation of property, desecration of their places of worship, imprisonment and numerous acts of violence, including some life-threatening.

"The European Union is concerned at the Iranian parliament's decision to consider a draft law making apostasy one of the crimes punishable by death. If adopted, that law would be a serious infringement of the freedom of religion or belief, which includes the right to change religion and the right to have no religion. It would violate Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was freely ratified by Iran, and would threaten the lives of a number of Iranians who have been arrested and held without trial for several months on account of their religious beliefs.

"The European Union urges the Islamic Republic of Iran to reconsider its decision to examine the law in question, release all those who have been imprisoned because of their religious affiliation and allow all its citizens to exercise their freedom of religion or belief in full."

Copyright 2008 ASSIST News Service

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