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Iran Christian Convert Faces Possible Death Penalty

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

By BosNewsLife News Center

Iranian Christians face persecution, especially if they abandoned Islam, rights groups say. TEHRAN , IRAN (BosNewsLife) — An Iranian Christian who converted from Islam 33 years ago faced another tense day Tuesday, May 23, after the feared secret police reportedly arrested him in northern Iran amid growing concerns over the treatment of Christians in the strict Islamic state.

51-year old Ali Kaboli, could be charged for converting to Christianity, which under Iran ’s apostasy laws calls for the death penalty.

Kaboli has been held incommunicado for the past three weeks, but news of his arrest has only just emerged, Christian sources said. Compass Direct, a Christian news agency investigating reports of persecution, said Kaboli was taken into custody on May 2 from his workshop in Gorgan, capital of Iran ’s northern province of Golestan.

With the exception of one brief telephone call, he allegedly has been refused contact with any visitors. Local Christians claim he had been “threatened” in the past with legal prosecution for holding “illegal” religious meetings in his home.

Since Kaboli’s arrest three weeks ago, a number of Christians attending Kaboli’s house-church have been questioned by police, Compass Direct said. There was no immediate official reaction. Kaboli is married with five grown children, but his family has so far reportedly declined to comment on the situation.


A carpenter by trade, Kaboli has for decades hosted house church meetings in his home, which was once burned down by unidentified arsonists, Compass Direct reported.

He spent much of his spare time as an itinerant evangelist, leading small meetings for worship, Bible study and discipleship in various towns and cities along the Caspian Sea coast. Kaboli was reportedly threatened, arrested and interrogated several times

for his Christian activities.

Twelve years ago, he allegedly received verbal threats that he was an apostate who should be killed. “More than once local police have ordered him for months to stay within the city limits of Gorgan and sign in daily at police headquarters,” Compass Direct said in a release obtained by BosNewsLife.

Local Christians describe him as “very bold.”


“Everyone knew that his house was under control [police surveillance] for many years,” an Iranian Christian now living abroad was quoted as saying, apparently on condition of anonymity. “They even pushed him to leave the country about three years ago, but he told them he preferred to stay inside the country, even if it meant living in an Iranian jail.”

“He loves Jesus very much,” said another Iranian pastor who has known Kaboli since his conversion to Christ as a teenager in Tehran . His arrests come at a time when Iranian authorities have increased pressure on mushrooming Protestant house churches.

Local authorities and police interrogators in the Golestan and Mazandaran provinces of northern Iran have been “notoriously difficult” for their tough stance against converts to Christianity, observers with close knowledge about the situation said.


Just six months ago, another Muslim convert to Christianity was reportedly stabbed to death in nearby Gonbad-e-Kavus, 60 miles (96 kilometers) from Gorgan. The body of Ghorban Dordi Tourani, 53, was thrown in front of his home a few hours after he was arrested from his home on November 22, 2005, investigators said.

He was the fifth Protestant pastor assassinated in Iran by unidentified killers in the past 11 years. Three of the five were former Muslims. Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently had an open meeting with the nation’s 30 provincial governors to discuss religious issues.

Dutch diplomats in Tehran investigated a BosNewsLife report on that situation, but more details have not yet been released.

In the Netherlands , Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk has come under fire for considering expelling Iranian converts, despite indications they could face the death penalty or at least imprisonment in Iran for abandoning Islam.


At least five Protestant pastor assassinated in Iran by unidentified killers in the past 11 years. Three of the five were former Muslims, under Iranian law subject to the death penalty for having committed apostasy.

Church watchers say the situation has significantly worsened under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who reportedly held talks in recent months with the nation’s 30 provincial governors to discuss the spread of Christianity.

Iranian authorities have also increased pressures on the handful of remaining Protestant congregations still allowed to meet in official church buildings, investigators said.

Local Protestant denominations have reportedly been ordered to cut their ties with any house church groups meeting throughout the country. Government officials warned that such fellowships were holding “illegal religious meetings” and would be duly prosecuted.


“Since then, church leaders have been under relentless intimidation to compromise with government investigators by providing the names of their members, particularly any who are converts from Islam,” Compass Direct said.

“So they must either give the police these names, or resign from pastoral ministry – or give up and leave the country,” one Iranian Christian reportedly said. “There is a fourth alternative: they can go to prison,” the Christian added.

It was lay pastor Hamid Pourmand’s refusal to compromise his Christian faith that landed him in jail in September 2004. Another long-term convert from Islam, the former army colonel is serving a three-year jail term at Tehran ’s Evin Prison for allegedly “concealing” his conversion to Christianity from the Iranian military.