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Belarus Releases Christian Convert Wanted In Iran, Orders Him To Leave Country

Mehrdad Jamshidian (shown in December 2015) has lived in Belarus since 1993.
Mehrdad Jamshidian (shown in December 2015) has lived in Belarus since 1993.

MINSK -- Belarusian authorities have released from custody an Iranian man who has converted to Orthodox Christianity and is wanted by Tehran for alleged murder.

However, the Department for Citizenship and Migration ruled on May 14 that Mehrdad Jamshidian must leave Belarus within three months.

Jamshidian has lived in Belarus since 1993. He has spent nearly a year in detention awaiting deportation to Iran on grounds that he had violated Belarus's migration laws.

However, a court on May 14 canceled the department's order for Jamshidian to be deported to Iran where he could face the death penalty on charges of apostasy because of his renunciation of Islam to become a Christian.

The UN Committee on Human Rights said in 2017 that Jamshidian would be at risk of torture and the death penalty, with no guarantee of a fair trial, if he were transferred into Iranian custody.

The Minsk-based rights group Human Constanta says Jamshidian does not have the resources to move his family to another country because he is currently unemployed.

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

The couple's two daughters are employed, but their wages are not enough to relocate the family to another country in such a short period of time, Human Constanta says.

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

Belarus 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.

On April 29, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom listed Iran among 16 "countries of particular concern" for engaging in or tolerating "systemic, ongoing, egregious violations" of religious freedom.

Others on that list include Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Burma, China, North Korea, and Syria.

The U.S. State Department gave the designation to Iran in November 2018.

Jamshidian 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 says 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 the Iranian authorities.

Nevertheless, Belarusian authorities in late 2013 ordered Jamshidian's deportation.

That resulted in his being detained twice for long periods of time between 2013 and 2016 before he was eventually released due to extenuating circumstances.