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Iran Court Separates Two-Year-Old Child From Christian-Convert Adoptive Parents

Iranian human rights activists have reported that the Appeals Court of Bushehr ruled on September 22 that a couple who have converted to Christianity from Islam should give up their two-year-old ‘Muslim-born’ adopted daughter.

A family court judge had on July 19 allowed the child, Lydia, to remain with her adoptive parents, who have taken care of her since she was three months old. The judge noted the child’s “strong emotional ties” to her adoptive parents as well as the likelihood of “an uncertain future” if she was returned to a state orphanage, given the child’s heart and digestive issues made finding another family difficult.

It is unclear who took subsequent legal action against the parents, Maryam Falahi, 36, and her husband Sam Khosravi, 37. But it is likely that state Welfare Organization – perhaps spurred by security bodies – was behind the lawsuit.

Falahi and Khosravi, who have no natural children of their own after 13 years of marriage, were arrested along with five others in Bushehr in southern Iran in July 2019 after converting to Christianity. The couple were charged for “acting against national security” and “membership of groups hostile to the [Islamic Republic] system,” according to Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA).  

When in detention, they were also forced to make confessions, HRANA has reported. The couple were held in solitary confinement for two weeks without access to legal representation and later released on heavy bail.

The ruling in the child adoption case is the couple’s latest punishment. A Revolutionary Court on June 22 sentenced Sam Khosravi to one year in prison, a ban of two years on residing in Bushehr and two years deprivation from working in the hotel industry. Maryam Falahi was fined 80 million rials and a bar on government employment that means she will be forced to leave her job at a hospital in Bushehr after 20 years.

The lawyer of the family contests aspects of the adoption case. He says the couple never filled out a form in which the Welfare Organization claimed they lied about their religion and that an expert should examine the handwriting and signatures. According to the lawyer, the couple had stated their Christian faith on the government’s online portal when registering Lydia as their legal child.

Tehran-based lawyer Babak Farrahi explained the law to Iran International. “According to Article 6 of the Law regulating child adoption, adoptive parents must belong to one of the religions recognized by the Constitution of the Islamic Republic – that is Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism,” he said. “The law also requires that the adoptive parents and the child must be of the same faith. This means a child born into a Muslim family cannot be adopted by a Christian family. However, the same law allows Muslim families to adopt non-Muslim children.”

While the Islamic Republic frowns on Baha’ism and atheism as well as eastern or esoteric philosophies and cults, it tolerates Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. Recognized by the Constitution as legitimate religious minorities, those born into Christian, Jewish or Zoroastrian families enjoy a certain freedom of worship. Their communities practice their own family laws. Armenian and Assyro-Chaldeans Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians have representatives in the Iranian parliament.

But Iran is among 20 countries that do not allow religious conversion. While churches of several Christian faiths are allowed - including Armenian, Assyro-Chaldean, Greek Orthodox and Catholic - they are required to admit to services only the members of their own communities and not to accept converts.

Christian converts practice their faith in small groups behind closed doors of family homes. According to Article 18, a London-based NGO focused on Iranian Christians, at least 34 people were arrested in 2019 in Iran after converting to Christianity. Open Doors, a US-based evangelical NGO, ranks Iran 9th among countries suppressing Christians and places it in a category of “extreme persecution.”

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