Christian converts 'may not be deported' to Iran

Berlin, German - A German court said Monday that asylum-seekers from Iran who have converted to Christianity may not be deported.

In a ruling made June 1 and published Monday, the administrative court in the southern city of Stuttgart upheld the complaint of an Iranian Christian woman whose asylum application and subsequent appeals had been rejected in Germany.

The plaintiff traveled to Germany in 2000 with her two sons and based her asylum application on the fact that she had converted to Christianity from Islam 19 years earlier.

She said that since she had married a Muslim she had been forced to hide her religion from her family. The woman said that she reached a point at which she could no longer live in Iran because she needed to speak openly about her faith and attend Christian worship services.

Germany had denied her request on the grounds that she could practice her religion in private in Iran, if not in public, without fearing reprisals.

However, the judges in Stuttgart accepted her argument that a 2004 European Union directive grants asylum within the bloc to those who face discrimination or threats to their well-being for practicing their religion in public.

Member states had until October 2006 to implement the directive.

"The plaintiff may no longer be forced to only practice her religion in secret once she returns to Iran ... particularly after years of openly and intensively practicing her religion in Germany," the ruling said. "In Iran, converted Christians are threatened with general repression because they have changed their religion, particularly when the new religious conviction is openly represented, for example by violating the ban on proselytizing," it added.

According to traditional Islamic law, the punishment for apostasy is death. Official Iranian law does not ban apostasy but human rights groups say that converts to Christianity are often subject to oppression and punishment for "insulting Islam."