A couple of Iranian converts under threat of deportation from Belgium
Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers
HRWF (23.08.2022) – Hamid Reza Hossein Khani (42) and Mariam Soltani (38), two converts from Shia Islam to Protestantism, have recently been denied asylum by the Belgian authorities and are under threat of being sent back to Iran where they are at risk of being arrested and sentenced to a prison term for apostasy.
They converted to Christianity about three years ago and are now attending a Protestant Church in Belgium (the United Protestant Church of Belgium recognized by the state). They run a website in Farsi language (http://www.lightsindarkness.com) through which they spread the message of the Bible to their fellow citizens in Iran and the diaspora. Their website enjoys such an audience that VOA News has mentioned it in one of its programs in Farsi.
These Iranian converts were born and living in Qom, a city in Iran well-known for its university training radical Iranian and foreign Shia imams. Some of them from Azerbaijan who were educated in Qom were put in prison for extremism when they went back to their country.
I personally interviewed the couple of converts for two hours on 19 May 2022.
Hamid Reza Hossein Khani
Hamid graduated from the Islamic Azad University of Qom as a teacher of English language and literature. He speaks Farsi, English and can manage it in Turkish.
Until he fled from Iran in 2020, he had been teaching English. In the year 1397 (2018), one of his students who happened to be a Christian shared his faith with him during several months and invited him to watch videos from YouTube about the Christian faith.
Hamid participated in house church meetings and in June 2019, he converted to Christianity. The religious meetings were taking place in different houses and convened about 6-7 converts in all.
In summer 2020, their meeting, which was taking place in Hamid’s house, was interrupted by ‘a visit’ of intelligence services agents in civilian clothes. Hamid and Mariam managed to flee but other believers were arrested.
Some days later, Hamid and Mariam fled Iran in fear of being arrested and imprisoned.
Hamid has a 11year old daughter
They arrived in Belgium in September 2020.
Mariam comes from a pious Shia family. Her grandfather was a mollah.
She had a beauty salon in Qom. Through a Romanian client who happened to be in Iran, she was put in contact with the leader of a house church in 2019. She met Hamid at one of the house church meetings in the same year. There were some links between their own families and they knew each other.
Mariam has three children: two daughters (13 and 8 years) and one son (18 years)
Mariam’s relatives and neighbors know that she has fled abroad and about her conversion and it seems the police are actively hunting her.
Persecution of Christians in Iran
HRWF has a worldwide database of religious prisoners belonging to 19 religious groups in 18 countries. In Iran, HRWF has documented 14 cases of Protestants, mainly converts, who are behind bars https://hrwf.eu/hrwf-prisoners- database-other-countires/
More information about the persecution of Christians can be found on Article 18: https://articleeighteen.com/latest/
Opinion and conclusion
After interrogating the two asylum-seekers for two hours, including about their conversion, my conclusions are that
- Hamid and Mariam really converted to Christianity in Iran
- They could have been arrested there at any time
- Mariam Soltani could be killed by her uncle, an Islamic hardliner, if sent back to Iran
- Hamid and Mariam are true Protestant believers who continue to actively participate in religious life in Belgium
- They should be granted political asylum.
Photo : Hamid Reza Hossein Khani and Mariam Soltani
Further reading about FORB in Iran on HRWF website