December 3rd, 2008 Headsman
On this date in 1990, Hossein Soodmand, a Muslim who had converted to Christianity in the 1960′s, was hanged for apostasy under the sentence of a sharia court in Mashad, Iran — the last known apostasy execution in the Islamic Republic.
Soodmand’s post-conversion ministry in the Assembles of God church was not the sort of thing to endanger life and limb under the westward-looking Shah. But after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, there was a new sheriff in town.
Soodmand was not the last convicted or condemned for the crime — and converting to Christianity is still a crime — and his story has been back in the news of late because he may be in danger of losing his generation-long grip on the milestone.
In fact, he could lose the distinction to the next generation of his own flesh and blood.
The hanged pastor’s son, Ramtin Soodmand, was arrested in August, ostensibly for anti-government propaganda. But having followed his father’s evangelical footsteps, there was considerable fear — only slightly abated by his subsequent release on bail — that he could be put on trial for his life.
Amnesty International even put out an action alert for him during his detention, as a prisoner of conscience.
Around the same time, the Iranian legislature voted overwhelmingly for a measure to codify apostasy as a capital crime: confusingly, apostasy isn’t yet among the state’s statutes, but can be referred to sharia courts empowered to levy verdicts out of the Islamic religious tradition. (Besides Christians, Iran’s Baha’i are the other most likely defendants.)
The fact that these courts’ occasional death sentences since Soodmand have not been carried out is itself a telling indicator that the juridical disposition of apostasy cases in Iran is very sensitive to political pressure.
Small comfort to Ramtin’s sister Rashin Soodmand, who lives in London, and gave this moving interview to the Telegraph while her brother was still in a Mashad prison. In it, she describes her father spurning a bargain to abandon his illicit denomination in exchange for his life.
Of course, my father refused to give up his faith … He could not renounce his God. His belief in Christ was his life — it was his deepest conviction.
Also on this date
- An unspecified Monday: Fagin
- 1920: Tom Johnson and Jim McDonald, criminal assailants
- 1849: Anna Koch of Appenzell
- 1876: The samurai leaders of the Hagi and Akizuki rebellions
- 1952: Rudolf Slansky and 10 "conspirators"
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Hanged,Iran,Martyrs,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Notably Survived By,Religious Figures,Ripped from the Headlines