Iranian bishop found dead
According to the authoritative New York-based Middle East Watch, the son of Bishop Haik Hovsepian Mehr identified his father from photographs shown to him at the Tehran mortuary. He was not allowed to remove the body or even see it.
Middle East Watch said he had apparently been dead since 20 January. It quoted a statement issued by the bishop's parent church as saying that photographs of his body showed stitches in the abdomen, suggesting a post-mortem examination had been carried out.
The bishop had vanished shortly after leading a successful campaign to free his assistant, the Reverend Mehdi Dibaj, who had been sentenced to death for abandoning Islam and converting to Christianity. The campaign, conducted in the Western press and echoed by the United States State Department, infuriated the Iranians. As one leading Iranian churchman put it: 'Bishop Haik made the ultimate act of sacrifice to save his friend.'
At issue is less the right of Christians to practise their religion than the question of drawing attention to Iran's mixed policy towards non- Muslims.
Iran is a predominantly Shia Muslim country, and Christians make up only about 300,000 out of the 17 million population. Both the established churches, the Armenian Orthodox and the Nestorians, are given protected status according to Islamic law. In recent weeks, they have associated themselves with government statements extolling the country's tolerance of religious minorities and enjoyment of full constitutional rights. This was in answer to a report to the UN general assembly by the UN special representative on Iran, Professor Reynaldo Galindo-Pohl, in which he was critical of the state of religious freedoms in Iran.
However, Bishop Haik and the evangelical church of which he was head had refused to sign any such document. They refused to make any commitment not to allow converts to Christianity sanctuary in their church buildings.
Bishop Haik and Mr Dibaj were members of the Assembly of God, an evangelical church which actively sought converts from Islam. Bishop Haik's parents had divorced when he was young, and his mother married a Muslim. At 15, however, he became an active Christian. Mr Dibaj became a Christian 45 years ago, but did not, he said, renounce Islam, since he had never had a religious upbringing.
Iran, like other Islamic states, has never been able to reconcile its commitments to the right of individuals to choose their religion enshrined in the UN charter and declaration of human rights which Iran has signed, with Islamic law which imposes the death penalty for Muslims who renounce Islam, whether or not they convert to other religions, such as Christianity or Bahaiism.
Within Iran, there seems to be a battle between the intelligence establishment, run by the revolutionary guards, and the Justice Ministry, which issued a conciliatory statement after Mr Dibaj was freed.
Obituary, page 14
- 1 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 2 I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts
- 3 Martha Stewart accuses Snoop Dogg of 'smoking for four hours' during Justin Bieber Roast
- 4 Google April Fools': company unveils backwards search engine and huggable digital assistant
- 5 April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
Martha Stewart accuses Snoop Dogg of 'smoking for four hours' during Justin Bieber Roast
April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
April Fools' Day 2015 live: The best pranks and fake stories from around the world
University of Cambridge: Remains of 1,300 scholars are found under building
Turkey power cut: Prime Minister says nationwide blackout could be caused by terrorists
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A bookkeeper/receptionist posit...
£28500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers unique corp...
£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in the design...
£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has 30 years of ex...