Death to non-Muslims Law Passed (Iran)

Iran’s parliament has passed the death penalty for apostasy, which is viewed in that country as converting to any other faith than Islam.

Thousands of Iranians have been converting to Christianity, and the underground church is thriving, according to reports. But other Iranians are returning to Zoroastrianism, which was the dominant religion in Iran at one time. Jonathan Rocho, with International Christian Concern (ICC), explains.

“We, as a Christian organization, are very much concerned about this because this means many Christians who converted from Islam are going to face death, simply because of their decision to follow Jesus Christ,” Rocho laments.

He says Iranians are questioning the Muslim faith after living under the regime, which has been dominated by the religion since the revolution in the 1970s. “They have not seen any change in their lives,” Rocho adds. “There is even more repression, more problems going on in the country, so they are very much confused about the Islamic faith.”

Already, two Christian converts accused of apostasy have been given the death penalty. Since Iran does not easily succumb to international pressure, Rocho urges people to pray.

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Sixteen Christian Converts Arrested…and Beaten (Iran)

Tehran, 29 July (AKI) – Sixteen Iranians who converted from Islam to Christianity were arrested on Tuesday in Malakshahr, on the outskirts of the central Iranian city of Isfahan.

The six women, eight men and two adolescents who were arrested were assisting in a conversion ceremony and baptism of three new members of the church at a private house that had been transformed into an evangelical church.

The owners of the home, an elderly couple, were allegedly beaten up before they were locked up in an unmarked lorry.

In April, 10 Christian converts were arrested in Shiraz.

The official evangelical churches in Isfahan received orders not to allow any Muslims to attend their ceremonies and not to facilitate in any way the conversions.

Iranian law does not stipulate any punishment for those who convert from Islam to other faiths, even if the converts are subject to repression.

A few months ago, the government presented a bill which is currently being discussed in parliament, to include in the penal code the crime of “Ertedad” which is the act of abandoning the Muslim faith.

If the parliament does approve the law, the punishment for abandoning Islam will be the death penalty.

Two Teacher-Human Rights Activists Sentences to Death (Iran)

Tehran, 11 July (AKI) – Two Kurdish teachers in Iran, Farzad Kamangar and Farhad Vakili, have been sentenced to death.

The two teachers were known for their work in the campaign calling for greater respect for human rights.

Kamangar, is among the founders of the independent union of teachers in Iranian Kurdistan, and a known trade union activist.

Various international associations and institutions, including the European Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have protested against Kamangar’s death sentence.

They have called for a fair and impartial trial for the Kurdish teacher who was accused of “collaborating with armed organisations” and “counter-revolutionary activities”.

The news that Kamangar received the death penalty, even surprised his lawyer who said that they would appeal the sentence at the international court at the Hague.

Death Penalty for Internet ‘Crimes’

Iran’s parliament is set to debate a draft bill which could see the death penalty used for those deemed to promote corruption, prostitution and apostasy on the Internet, reports said on Wednesday.

MPs on Wednesday voted to discuss as a priority the draft bill which seeks to “toughen punishment for harming mental security in society,” the ISNA news agency said.

The text lists a wide range of crimes such rape and armed robbery for which the death penalty is already applicable. The crime of apostasy (the act of leaving a religion, in this case Islam) is also already punishable by death.

However, the draft bill also includes “establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy”, which is a new addition to crimes punishable by death.

Those convicted of these crimes “should be punished as “mohareb’ (enemy of God) and “corrupt on the earth’,” the text says.

Under Iranian law the standard punishments for these two crimes are “hanging, amputation of the right hand and then the left foot as well as exile.”

The bill — which is yet to be debated by lawmakers — also stipulates that the punishment handed out in these cases “cannot be commuted, suspended or changed”.

Internet is widely used in Iran despite restrictions on access and the blocking of thousands of websites with a sexual content or deemed as insulting religious sanctities and promoting political dissent.

Blogging is also very popular among cyber-savvy young Iranians, some openly discussing their private lives or criticising the system.

Human rights groups have accused Iran of making excessive use of the death penalty but Teheran insists it is an effective deterrent that is carried out only after an exhaustive judicial process.

The number of executions soared last year to 317 amid a campaign which the authorities said was aimed at improving security in society, and was sharply up on 2006 figures when Amnesty International recorded 177 executions.

All legislation in Iran has to be rubber-stamped by a conservative clerical watchdog before it is written into law. The Guardians Council vets bills to see if they are in line with the constitution and Islamic law.

Blaming Others (Farooq Sulehria)

The Amnesty International report on human rights for the year 2007 is out. The Muslim world constitutes, as usual, bleakest chapter. Every single country across the Muslim world has been pointed out by the Amnesty International either for executions and torture or discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities. Punishments never handed down even during the Stone Age, have been awarded in 21st century Muslim world. In one case, two Saudi nationals were awarded 7,000 lashes. Yes, 7,000. And executions? Well, 335 in Iran, 158 in Saudi Arabia and 135 in Pakistan. Violation of human rights, it seems, is the only thing that unites the otherwise divided Muslim world.

The report is no exception. The Muslim world cuts a sorry figure every time a global watchdog releases its findings. Freedom of expression here remains curtailed, Reporters Sans Frontieres annually reports. Regarding freedom of expression, there is a joke often told in Arab world. At a meeting, a US journalist says: “We have complete freedom of expression in the US. We can criticise the US president as much as we like.” The Arab journalist replies. “We also have complete freedom of expression in Arab world. We can also criticise the US president as much as we like.”

Similarly, it is either Bangladesh or Pakistan or Nigeria which is on top of Transparency International’s corruption indexes. However, when Nobel laureates gather in Stockholm every December, Muslim scientists and writers are conspicuous by their absence. In case, as Naguib Mahfouz is crowned, he is stabbed and rendered paralysed. The irony, or tragedy, is that his attacker had not even read his excellent books. Or we disown Dr Abdul Salam just because he belonged to the Ahmadiya community. Salam’s case deserves special mention since it underlines the absurdity that characterises this part of the world.

When all else fails, “Jews” and “Christian” West are there to lay the blame for all our ills. Conspiracy theories instead of scientific, rational thought holds sway across much of the Muslim world. And every time a rights abuse is highlighted in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, a typical Muslim answer is: Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Chechnya. True, imperialism and Zionism have a hand in our predicament. However, there are many wounds one can only describe as self-inflicted.

Take, for instance, the Iran-Iraq war, one of the last century’s bloodiest conflicts. There is no denying the fact that the United States backed the Saddam regime. But it was the Arab sheikhdoms, panicked at the Iranian revolution, that stoked the flames of war. And, ironically, now in the post-Saddam era when the “Christian” West has written off Iraq’s Saddam-era debt worth $66 billion, Iraq’s Arab brothers refuse to write off that country’s $67 billion loans.

Similarly, last century’s bloodiest Muslim genocide was not carried out by Serbs, Israelis, Americans, Europeans or Hindus. It was Pakistan’s military that refused to respect a democratic verdict and plunged East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, into an ocean of blood. Millions were killed, maimed, raped and rendered homeless. Luckily, Pakistan has a “Hindu” neighbour. “Hindus are born enemies of Islam’. Hence, Pakistani children are now taught that a Bengali traitor (revered by Bengalis as founder of Bangladesh), in connivance with our “Hindu” neighbour, dismembered Pakistan. Ironically, of all her South Asian neighbours, Pakistan enjoys most cordial relations with the world’s only Hindu state, Nepal. The other big genocide was perpetrated by Indonesia. The target was: its own citizens who were members of the Communist Party.

Figures are not available but Israel perhaps cannot match Iran in executing Arabs. Iran’s confessional regime is a champion of the Arab cause in Occupied Territories but Arabs of its Khuzestan province are regularly sent to the gallows. Seizing the opportunity, one may also point out how only recently Afghan refugees were driven out of Iran as if Afghan refugees were not as Muslim as Palestinians. And, by the way in the fallen “Emirate of Afghanistan” itself, Hazaras were slaughtered by the Taliban in their thousands almost a decade ago – mainly because Hazaras are Shia. In Iraq, more people have been killed in Shia-Sunni clashes than in resisting the US occupation. Shia-Sunni clashes in Pakistan have claimed more lives than those lost in its wars against India. Ironically, this only “nuclear power” of the Muslim world is not being occupied on its eastern front by its “Hindu” neighbour but is losing territory on its western front to its own citizens.

One can mention from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait to the recent Hamas-Fatah infighting (a shameful tribute to Israel on its 60th anniversary). The list is long. Indeed, unending. However, the solution to all our problems is always simple: return to an imagined past which, mercifully for the people of the seventh century, never existed. Every time, a scientist in the West is ready with an invention, our readymade answer is: we knew about it 1,400 years ago what the West has found only now. We kill Theo van Gogh when confronted with a film. We burn down our own cities in response to a blasphemous and racist caricature. Still, we refuse to understand that our answer to every “provocation” is either a fatwa or mindless violence – perhaps because creativity is anathema to us. Not because we lack fertile minds, but because we lack liberation and freedom — liberation from self-imposed mental, moral, and cultural censors. And freedom to think and express. Time to heed the great Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, who said:

Five thousand years

Growing beards

In our caves.

Our currency is unknown,

Our eyes are a haven for flies.

Friends,

Smash the doors,

Wash your brains,

Wash your clothes.

Friends,

Read a book,

Write a book,

Grow words, pomegranates and grapes,

Sail to the country of fog and snow.

Nobody knows you exist in caves.

People take you for a breed of mongrels.

This great article appeared in the The News International:
http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=118852

Cleric ‘calls all feminists whores and foreign spies’

Tehran, 27 May (AKI) – A top Iranian cleric from the northeast, Ayatollah Ahmad Elmalhoda, has reportedly called feminists “whores and foreign spies”.

“These whores, clutching a piece of paper in their hands to gather signatures, are working for foreign powers and want to destabilise the Islamic Republic,” said Elmalhoda.

He is the highly influential prayer leader in the northeastern holy Shia city of Mashad.

Elmalhoda has called on the government to “intervene decisively against these whores, because it is improper to leave them to act with impunity.”

A few weeks ago, Elmalhoda said women who do not wear the Islamic veil as instructed “turned men into animals.”

Verbal attacks against feminists in Iran are also being accompanied by a vast judicial offensive.

Eight feminists involved in a campaign to gather “a million signatures in favour of equality” were recently given jail terms of various lengths and sentenced to public floggings.

The Iranian authorities have in the last two weeks censured twelve websites close to the feminist movement.

Man Jailed Over Feminism Petition (Iran)

TEHRAN (AFP) – A male defender of the feminist cause in Iran has been sentenced to a year in prison, the moderate Kargozaran newspaper reported on Monday.

Amir Yaqoubali is a supporter of the “One Million Signatures” petition campaign launched in June 2006. According to a feminist website, he was arrested as he collected signatures.

The campaign seeks to change the Islamic republic’s laws on marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody by collecting signatures both online and in person.

In recent months four feminists — Rezvan Moghadam, Nahid Jafari, Nasrin Afzali and Marzieh Mortazi Langueroudi — were handed down suspended sentences of six months in prison and 10 lashes by Tehran Revolutionary Court for disorderly conduct in public.

In March last year, they took part in a rally outside the same court to protest against the arrest of five feminists in June 2006.

Several other activists, arrested for their pro-feminism stance, are still in jail.