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Belarus Allows Iranian Christian Convert To Remain In Country

Merhdad has lived in Belarus since 1993. (file photo)
Merhdad has lived in Belarus since 1993. (file photo)

MINSK -- Belarusian authorities have allowed an Iranian man who converted to Orthodox Christianity and is wanted by Tehran on murder charges, to remain in the country.

The chief of the Department for Citizenship and Migration, Alyaksey Byahun, told RFE/RL on June 17 that Mehrdad Jamshidian, who was earlier ordered to leave Belarus, may stay in Belarus.

"The Interior Ministry has decided to permit an Iranian national, Mehrdad Jamshidian, to stay in Belarus by granting him an appropriate status based on humanitarian principles," Byahun said.

The UN Committee on Human Rights has said that Jamshidian would be at risk of torture and the death penalty, with no guarantee of a fair trial if he were transferred to Iranian custody.

In May, Belarusian authorities released Jamshidian from nearly a year-long detention and ordered him to leave the country within three months.

Jamshidian has lived in Belarus since 1993. He was arrested by Belarusian migration officials in 2018 on grounds that he had violated immigration laws.

On May 14, a court in Minsk rescinded the order to deport Jamshidian to Iran, where he could face the death penalty on charges of apostasy because of his renunciation of Islam to become a Christian.

The court also ruled, however, that Jamshidian must leave Belarus for a country of his choice within three months.

Jamshidian's family said he had suffered a heart attack while in custody and that his Belarusian wife, with whom he has three children, did not work because she was recovering from cancer surgery.

Jamshidian's Iranian passport expired in 2016 and he did not apply for a new one out of fear of being punished by authorities in Iran.

Belarus had rejected multiple requests from Jamshidian for political asylum and protection since 2013. Without a new passport, he has been unable to apply for legal residence in Belarus since 2016.

Jamshidian converted to Christianity in 2002 while living in Belarus, a fact that apparently only became known to Iranian authorities years later.

The renunciation of Islam is a crime punishable by death in Iran. Tehran has insisted Jamshidian faces no repercussions due to his religion.

However, he was placed on Interpol's wanted list in 2012 at Tehran's request for allegedly murdering his mother and brother during a visit to Iran.

Jamshidian denies the charges, saying he was in Belarus at the time of the murders. He also claims his relatives do not consider him a suspect.

He was arrested twice in Belarus on the Interpol warrant, in 2012 and 2013.

But Belarus rejected Iran's requests for his extradition because of what they said was insufficient evidence presented by Iranian authorities.

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