Draft Iranian law threatens gross human rights violations

February 22, 2008
Section Five of the proposed Iranian penal code states that the penalty for apostasy - in this case a Muslim declaring he has left Islam - is death.

NEW YORK, United States — The Iranian Parliament is considering legislation that would institutionalize a series of gross human rights violations, affecting not only Baha'is but many others, even outside of Iran, the Baha'i International Community said today.

Of greatest concern is a section that would mandate the death penalty for anyone who converts from Islam to another religion, a provision that would affect not only Baha'is but also Christians, Jews, and others.

"This proposed law goes against all human rights norms and standards, including international treaties that Iran itself has agreed to," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"It is important for the international community to speak out, now, before it is too late and the draft code becomes Iran's law of the land."

The proposed law also would extend the government's reach over alleged security violations outside the country, give legal effect to discriminatory practices already in wide use against Baha'is and others, and redefine a series of "religious" and other crimes so vaguely as to place in jeopardy virtually any group facing government disapproval.

"If adopted, the code will permit the government and the clergy to act with impunity against Iran's citizens on the sole basis of their religious affiliation," said Ms. Dugal. "This is not only an affront to the people of Iran; it is an offense to all who seek to uphold fundamental human rights."

Ms. Dugal said the new section on religious conversion -- defined as apostasy -- is especially severe, in that its language mandates the death penalty for anyone who converts from Islam to another religion and does not immediately recant.

"The text uses the word Hadd, meaning that it explicitly sets death as a fixed punishment that cannot be changed, reduced or annulled," said Ms. Dugal. "In the past, the death penalty has been handed down -- and also carried out -- in apostasy cases, but it has never before been set down in law.

"The law also extends to naming as apostate any follower of a religion other than Islam who had one parent who was a Muslim at the time of his or her conception. Thus, for instance, the child of a Muslim and a Christian who chooses to adopt the Christian faith would be considered an apostate under the terms of the law and therefore subject to execution," Ms. Dugal said.

Another troubling section of the proposed code would extend "security" laws outside the country, exposing those outside Iran to the government's reach.

"Iran is apparently not content with targeting those it considers its opponents only within its borders," said Ms. Dugal, explaining that Article 112 of the proposed code refers to actions "against the government, the independence and the internal and external security of the country."

"Since the notion of 'security' is not defined in the law, any action can be qualified as such," Ms. Dugal said. "Indeed, many Iranian Baha'is have been falsely accused of activities against the security of the state.

"If the new penal code is adopted, Iranian Baha'is -- and others -- all over the world would likewise be liable for actions taken outside Iran that are considered contrary to Iran's security."

The code's vagueness with respect to "offending the sacred" and other crimes would give the government free license to act against any group it disapproves of, said Ms. Dugal. "The code includes articles that refer to the commission of unspecified crimes or felonies, as well as articles referring to those guilty of 'corruption and mischief on the earth,'" she said.

"It would also institute capital punishment for anyone who 'insults the Prophet,'" Ms. Dugal explained. "Such provisions place many groups, including Baha'is, in an extremely vulnerable position, since an 'insult' to the Prophet can be defined in almost any context, especially where religious belief is concerned."

In related developments, the presidency of the European Union recently expressed "serious concern" over the "deteriorating situation" of the Baha'i community in Iran.

"The EU expresses its serious concern at the worsening situation of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, in particular to the plight of the Baha'i," said the EU Presidency on 7 February 2008.

"The EU is concerned about the ongoing systematic discrimination and harassment of Baha'is in Iran, including the expulsion of university and high school students, restrictions on employment and anti-Baha'i propaganda campaigns in the Iranian media."