LOS ANGELES (Compass Direct News) – Two Iranian Christians have officially been charged with “apostasy,” or leaving Islam, as a draft law making the death penalty mandatory for those convicted of the charge is set to be debated in Iran ’s Parliament.
Mahmood Matin Azad, 52, and Arash Basirat (previously reported Bandari), 44, have been in prison since May 15, when they were arrested in Shiraz. When their lawyer went to authorities to inquire about the case in early August, he was informed that the two men had been formally charged with apostasy, sources confirmed to Compass.
At that time authorities gave the lawyer an official document stating that the formal charge of “apostasy” was based on the men’s confessions during interrogation. The “Interrogation Note – Investigator’s Final Order” said that their “culpability order” was based on Article 214 of the penal code and sections of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s treatise on legal affairs, the Tahrir ol Vassileh. Iran ’s legal system is based on sharia (Islamic law).
Previous charges of “Propaganda Against the Islamic Republic of Iran” had been dropped, according to the statement.
Sources who spoke to the lawyer explained that authorities generally do not issue written statements, and that this was an indication of the severity and complexity of the case.
With the apostasy bill to be debated in Parliament, some Iranian Christians fear that authorities are seeking to make an example of the two prisoners or give the prospective law a “test run.”
‘Interesting and Sensitive’
In February the Iranian Parliament proposed a draft penal code that demands the death penalty for leaving Islam. Under current Iranian law, apostasy is considered a capital offense, but punishment is left to the discretion of the judge.
Basirat, who suffers from diabetes, and Matin are expected to appear in court within the next few weeks with their lawyer in order to defend their case. They would not officially be found guilty unless evidence presented at the hearing were incriminating.
Meantime, the families of Basirat and Matin have tried unsuccessfully to get the prisoners out on bail before the trial takes place. The last week of August the lawyer instructed Matin’s wife to prepare a bail sum of around $40,000 to $50,000. But when the lawyer tried to get the necessary paperwork and signatures from the judge, the bail amount was denied.
Fearing that the bail amount may be doubled, the defense attorney told a source close to Matin’s family that the case had become “interesting and sensitive” for the judge and authorities, and therefore they would not “let it go so easily.”
Basirat’s family also tried to release him on bail by offering the deed of their home, but authorities have not accepted it.
The defense team has suggested that the defendants seek that international pressure be brought to bear on Iranian authorities to release Basirat and Matin and clear their names of any wrongdoing.