Last week, Iran's Majlis ratified a bill under which any Muslim who converts to another religion would be put to death, with no possibility of pardon.
The bill was approved by a majority of 196 to 7, with two abstentions.
The few Iranian media outlets that covered the issue played down their reports, while on others, such as the Majlis website and the website of the conservative daily Resalat, the reports were removed after a few hours.
Under the bill, anyone declaring publicly that he was knowingly abandoning Islam of his own free will face the death penalty.
The bill is now in permanent force, after being extended every five years since its temporary ratification in 1991.
It should be noted that a ruling by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, states that any Muslim who converts to another religion is subject to the death penalty, but until now this ruling has not been anchored in civil law.
Source: Iran, Iran, September 10, 2008; Radio Farda, Europe, September 9, 2008
This will simply heighten the intensity of the discussions at the upcoming Muslim Background Believers Conference to be held in Texas in September 26-27.
This article from World magazine lays out the realities for Muslim background believers in Iran:
The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has introduced legislation before the Iranian Majlis that would mandate the death penalty for apostates from Islam, a sign that it will brook no proselytizing in the country. "Life for so-called apostates in Iran has never been easy, but it could become literally impossible if Iran passes this new draft penal code," says Joseph Grieboski, the president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy in Washington. "For anyone who dares question the regime's religious ideology, there could soon be no room to argue—only death.''
Minorities. Grieboski points out that the text of the draft penal code uses the word hadd (prescribed punishment), which explicitly sets death as a fixed, irrevocable punishment. He worries that it could be applied to religious and ethnic minorities like Christians, Bahais, Jews, and Azeris by treating them as apostates.
Articles 225 to 227 of the draft penal code define two kinds of apostates: fetri, or an innate apostate—who has at least one Muslim parent, identifies as a Muslim after puberty, and later renounces Islam; and melli, or parental apostate—who is a non-Muslim at birth but later embraces Islam, only to renounce it again. The draft code says outright that punishment for an innate apostate is death. However, parental apostates have three days after their sentencing to recant their beliefs. If they don't, they will be executed according to their sentence. It isn't clear when this bill will be passed, though Grieboski says, "International pressure and attention—in large part due to our work—has significantly slowed the parliament's progress.''
In the past, apostasy could draw a range of punishments, from imprisonment to death, under legal practices that were more ambiguous than the draft statutes. In one instance that drew international attention, Mehdi Dibaj, an Iranian convert, was held in prison for his Christian beliefs for 10 years starting in 1984. He received the death sentence at the end of 1993. But he was released from prison in January 1994 after an international publicity campaign by Haik Hovsepian Mehr, a prominent Christian pastor in Iran. A few days after Dibaj's release, Hovsepian Mehr was abducted in Tehran, and his body, with 26 stab wounds, was found secretly buried in a Muslim graveyard. Six months later, Dibaj, freed but still under a pending death sentence, was abducted and murdered.
To give you some idea, 80% of the membership of Jama'at-e Rabbani, one of the largest churches in Tehran (Assemblies of God) are converts from Islam.