Ramtin Soodmand, pastor of the Evangelical Church of Iran in the city of Mashhad, was freed October 22 after his family reportedly managed to raise about $22,000 bail money, ending two months of imprisonment. Soodmand was detained by Iranian security forces on August 21, originally on charges of “proselytizing,” Christians with close knowledge about the procedures said.
The charges were later changed to anti-government activities. His defense team has strongly denied the accusations, but concerns remain that he could still face years of imprisonment and even the death penalty. “The real reason for his arrest is the fact that he is a Muslim convert who is involved in Christian ministry,” said the well-informed Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN).
The release of Soodmand came shortly after Shroder Ashur, an Assyrian Christian minister, was released after being charged with the “propagation of Christianity,” said FCNN, which has close contacts with prosecuted Christians in Iran. Ashur was freed in the city of Urumieh on October 5, according to FCNN investigators.
Yet, Christians said they remain concerned over the plight over these and other Christians. Recently the Iranian parliament voted in favour of a draft bill, entitled “Islamic Penal Code”, which would codify the death penalty for any male Iranian who leaves his Islamic faith. Women would get life imprisonment. The majority in favour of the new law was reportedly overwhelming: 196 votes for, with just seven against.
Ramtin Soodmand’s sister told British media she was “terribly anxious” about him. “Even though my brother is not an apostate, because he has never been a Muslim – my father raised us all as Christians – I don’t think he is Rashin Soodmansafe,” said 29-year-old Rashin Soodman, who now lives in London. “They assume that if you are Iranian, you must be Muslim,” she told The Telegraph newspaper.
Her brother’s situation has ominous echoes of her father’s fate. Rashin was 14 when her father, who was pastor of the Assemblies of God Church of Mashhad, was arrested. “He was held in prison for one month,” she said. “Then the religious police released him without explanation and without apology. We were overjoyed. We thought his ordeal was over.”
But six months later, the police came back and took Hossein Soodmand away again, she said. This time, they offered her father a choice: he could denounce his Christian faith, and the church in which he was a pastor – or he would be killed. “Of course, my father refused to give up his faith,” Rashid recalled. “He could not renounce his God. His belief in Christ was his life – it was his deepest conviction.” Two weeks later, he was taken by guards to the prison gallows and hanged.
His death has been linked to attempts by Iran’s rulers to use the 1979 revolution to turn Iran into an Islamic state, and to abolish the secular laws of the Shah. In the 18 years since Hossein Soodmand’s execution, there have been no reports of judicially sanctioned killings of apostates in Iran, although there have been many reports of disappearances and even murders, Christian groups said.
Rashin Soodmand eventually managed to leave Iran and, living in London, is now married to a fellow Christian from Iran who successfully applied for asylum in Germany. But she fears for her brother’s future. “We just don’t know what will happen to him. We only know that if they want to kill him, they will,” she said. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos). END