Home Christian News For Iranian Converts Claiming Religious Persecution, European Courts Require Proof of Faith

For Iranian Converts Claiming Religious Persecution, European Courts Require Proof of Faith

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In this Aug. 13, 2015, file photo, an Iranian asylum-seeker sits in the Trinity Church in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

LONDON (RNS) — The tattoo spelling “GOD” sits prominently between the man’s eyebrows, a letter disappearing with every furrowed expression.

The green ink, which draws sideways glances from nearby tables as Arash sips his cappuccino, would swiftly get him arrested or killed back home, apostasy being a crime of the highest order. But the British courts were not so convinced of his newfound religious beliefs.

Arash, an Iranian who converted from Islam to Christianity and sought asylum in the U.K., has had a difficult time proving he is really Christian. Immigration officials were skeptical when they read his application and saw the pictures of his permanent brow, said Arash, whose name has been changed by request to protect his family members who remain in Iran.

“The home office thought it was fake,” Arash told Religion News Service, referring to the ink he got in 2017.

“They think he did that for some effect, but he didn’t,” Maria Wilby, director of the Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Migrant Action group, said over the phone.

Maria Wilby. (Photo courtesy of RAMA)

“In the midst of ill health, of having an operation this year, he has not lost touch with the church. He is finding solace in God,” Wilby said, adding that religion is “probably the only thing that’s kept him alive.”

Converts fleeing religious persecution make up the biggest chunk of claims from Iranian asylum-seekers coming to RAMA for help, according to Wilby.

The Islamic Republic forbids anyone born Muslim from converting to another religion, with violations punishable by arrest and even death. There are about 1.25 million Christians in Iran and those born Christian are allowed to practice their beliefs in the shadows, but converts face increasing persecution, including mass arrests last summer. In addition to government pressure, converts are often exiled from families or forced into Islamic marriages, according to Open Doors International, a watchdog monitoring global Christian persecution.

But converts who have fled Iran are finding it much harder to prove their faith once they cross the border.

“The things that one does to articulate a genuine Christian faith are very difficult objectively to prove. So much of the question of faith is about our relationship between us and God and that can’t be verified in one sense in court,” said Mark Wallace, the priest at St. Peter’s Colchester Church who testified on behalf of Arash.

Wilby agrees. “How do you prove those things? Membership is something that’s prescribed,” she said, arguing that the current requirements to be determined a “practicing Christian,” such as church attendance, are unreasonable.