A Christian human rights group applauded the European Union for issuing a declaration to Iran that urged the repressive state to drop its draft apostasy bill and to release Christian converts from detention.
"We warmly welcome this strong reaction from the EU to Iran's proposed apostasy bill," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide's advocacy director, Tina Lambert, in a statement Tuesday. "If the legislation is passed by the Iranian parliament there will be dire consequences for thousands of Christians and Bahá'ís living in Iran."
In September, Iran's parliament had overwhelmingly approved a bill, named the Islamic Penal Code, which would punish apostasy with the death penalty. The bill proposed adding apostasy to a list of crimes that would result in execution.
The European Union, in response, released a declaration last Friday that challenged the Iranian parliament to rethink passing the bill into law.
"The European Union urges the Islamic Republic of Iran to reconsider its decision to examine the law in question, release all those who have been imprisoned because of their religious affiliation and allow all its citizens to exercise their freedom of religion or belief in full," read the EU letter.
It also expressed concerns over the arrests of members of religious minorities, including Iranian converts to Christianity and members of the Bahai community. The EU called for this "immediate" and "unconditional" release and the end to all "forms of violence and discrimination against them."
Among the arrested Christian converts are Mahmoud Mohammad Matin-Azad, 53, and Arash Ahmad-Ali Basirat, 40, who have been detained since May 15. Both were charged with apostasy just days before the first stage approval of the bill.
If the apostasy bill does pass, both the converts' lives would be in serious danger.
"The international community must continue to urge the Iranian Government to release all those detained on the basis of their religious affiliation and respect their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," CSW's Lambert declared.
"CSW joins the EU in requesting the Iranian parliament to drop this bill without delay."
The bill is to be sent back to the Legislative Commission for amendment proposals before it is returned to Parliament for another vote.
Iran is ranked third in Open Doors' World Watch List for countries with the worst persecution of Christians. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also lists Iran as a "Country of Particular Concern," a label given to countries with the worst religious freedom abuses.