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Discriminatory legislation threatens to exacerbate difficulties of Christians in Iraq as well as the Maldives and Iran

6 October 2008

Discriminatory legislation threatens to exacerbate difficulties of Christians in Iraq as well as the Maldives and Iran.  Amidst the growing concern for the rights of Muslims in the West, in particular the implementation of shari‘a, what is little known is the growing legal discrimination against Christians in the Muslim world.  Whereas in the West Islam is given full freedom to practise its faith and to engage in mission, in the Muslim world the general trend is towards restricting the rights of Christians.

Iraq – no political representation for Christian minority?

On 24 September the Iraqi Parliament approved the long-delayed Provincial Election Law, which allows provincial elections in Iraq to go ahead. Yet simultaneously it dropped Article 50, which guarantees a specific number of seats for minorities, including Christians, in the Regional Councils. The parliament’s decision now has to be reviewed and approved by the Iraqi Presidium committee, President Jalal Talabani and his two Vice Presidents. If the deletion of the article is approved, Christians and other minorities face the danger of permanently losing their right to representation in the Regional Councils. The first elections for the Regional Councils are set for 31 January 2009.

Several leaders, among them Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the United Nations (UN) special representative to Iraq, criticised the decision to remove Article 50 and urged President Talabani to reinstate it. In an interview Talabani assured the Iraqi Christian population that he would “personally make sure that the article be restored”. A UN envoy has promised to continue consultations with Iraqi political leaders in order to secure that the decision is reversed by 15 October, the date when nominations open for the Regional Council elections.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, has commented: “This move by the Iraqi Parliament counteracts the efforts by the Iraqi President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister to encourage Iraqi Christian refugees to return to their home country. Even though conditions in Iraq seem to be stabilising, the Christian community is still facing violence and persecution from Islamic extremists, especially in the city of Mosul.” At the beginning of September two Christians there were kidnapped and killed, despite the payment of a $20,000 ransom to the kidnappers by one of the families. In 2007 47 members of the Iraqi Christian community were killed, and many thousands have left the country since the invasion five years ago.

Maldives – non-Muslim Maldivians to lose their citizen rights as new constitution is ratified

On 7 August the President of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, ratified a new constitution that is designed to bring key democratic reforms to the country, including a bill of rights. It paves the way for the first multi-party presidential elections, which take place on Wednesday 8 October.

However, the new constitution is based on the common Maldivian assumption that any citizen of the Maldives is also automatically a Muslim. It states that “a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives” and that “no law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives”.

As a consequence of this clause, around 3,000 Maldivians will lose their citizenship, and it will also affect anyone who in the future converts from Islam. Under the previous constitution Maldivian Christians and other non-Muslims were excluded “only” from voting in elections. Now they will be stripped of citizen rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of movement and habeas corpus. This measure puts the Maldives among the world’s worst countries in regard to religious freedom.

Growing legal and constitutional pressures on Christian minorities 

The news from Iraq and the Maldives are not the only legal and constitutional developments in recent months that are designed to impact negatively on Christian minorities. “The constitutional changes in the Maldives in August, serious and shocking as they are, have now been overshadowed by the proposed new law in Iran,” comments Dr Sookhdeo. (See our recent press release.) “In the Maldives, Christians will lose their citizenship and rights, but in Iran those who leave Islam may lose their very lives. For the death penalty for apostasy by adult males is set to be incorporated into Iranian law.  Furthermore, the new Iranian law, if passed, would open the way to secular courts in Iran prosecuting Iranian citizens living in other countries who are involved in evangelistic ministry in Iran.    While the world applauds the fact that the Maldives are to hold their first ever multi-party presidential elections tomorrow, scant attention has been paid to the sudden removal of rights from 3,000 Maldivians who do not choose to be Muslims.  Today many countries claim to be democratic but they do not see that human rights and religious liberty are essential parts of democracy,” added Dr Sookhdeo.