Sunday, September 15, 2013

Where laws against "apostasy" have teeth – The case of Shahin Lahouti

No society can claim to have religious freedom unless it is possible for individuals to decide to change from one religion to another without having to fear significant penalties. Now, it so happens that in a large number of Muslim-majority countries it is perfectly OK to convert from a non-Muslim religion to Islam, but converting from Islam to another religion can get you into serious legal trouble (here's one relatively mild example) and/or make you a target for unofficial violence (which is likely to go unpunished).

It's true that few Muslim-dominated countries match the extreme levels of religious intolerance found Saudi Arabia, where the public manifestations of any non-Muslim religion are strictly prohibited and apostasy is a crime punishable by execution. But in a sizable proportion of these countries (not all of them, but a lot of them) converting from Islam to another religion is, at the very least, legally problematic (as carefully documented, for example, in Ann Mayer's excellent and totally non-Islamophobic book Islam and Human Rights). And in several of them, including Iran (which is much more religiously tolerant than Saudi Arabia—but that's an easy standard to meet), Muslims who convert to Christianity may be charged with apostasy and face possible execution.

That possibility is by no means purely formal or hypothetical—as demonstrated, for example, by the case of the Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. But sometimes converting to Christianity just gets you put in prison, either on explicit charges of apostasy or on some other pretext. Christian Solidarity Worldwide is currently trying to make world opinion aware of one such case, the imprisonment of Iranian musician Shahin Lahouti. This is just one example among many, but worth noticing. International pressure can make a difference in such cases—as the example of Youcef Nadarkhani also helps to demonstrate.

The report below comes via Sarah AB at Harry's Place.

—Jeff Weintraub

(P.S. In a number of these countries, even those where official and popular anti-semitism are intense, one finds fewer cases of active persecution of Jews—because their historic Jewish communities are gone, having fled or been expelled, so there are very few actual Jews left, or in some cases none at all, zero. The situation of Christian minorities in the Middle East is more complicated, but not very promising overall. Throughout the Islamic Middle East, including for this purpose Turkey and Iran as well as the Arab world, the Christian minorities have been steadily shrinking or disappearing for a century. And in those countries that still have noticeable Christian minorities, such as Iraq or Syria or Egypt, this process is still going on. There might be a few places, like Lebanon, where Christian minorities may endure for a while, despite gradually shrinking in both relative and absolute terms. Elsewhere, it doesn't seem unlikely that Middle Eastern Christians may wind up going the way of the Middle Eastern Jews.)

Sarah AB (at Harry's Place)
September 13, 2013
Support Shahin Lahouti

Christian Solidarity Worldwide is calling on people to show their support for Shahin Lahouti, an Iranian musician who has converted to Christianity, and was arrested last year on ‘political’ charges. He is currently serving a two and a half year prison sentence:
Shahin Lahouti is well known for his generous heart – he’s played concerts for autistic children, and regularly performs for charity. So despite the dangers he knew he faced after becoming a Christian last year, he decided to stay in Iran so he could continue helping people through his music.

But last October everything changed. Police raided a prayer meeting and arrested Shahin along with seven other Christians, on trumped up political charges. This is a cover up for the fact that they were really arrested because of their conversion to Christianity.

While the others were released after making extortionate bail payments, and have appealed their unjust sentences, Shahin is still in jail, serving a two and a half year sentence for “action against national security”.

But the political wind may be changing in Iran – the new president, Hassan Rouhani, has promised to free political prisoners like Shahin. We need to show Iran that the world is watching.
Here is a link to the petition calling for him to be released.