Iran has bulldozed over the grave of a pastor who was tortured and executed by the regime for converting from Islam to Christianity after seeing Jesus in a dream.
In December 1990, the Rev. Hossein Soodmand became the last man to be executed in Iran for apostasy, the "crime" of abandoning one's religion, after the Islamic Revolution. He had converted from Islam to Christianity in 1960, when he was 13 years old. Twenty-nine years later, he was brutally tortured and hanged by the Iranian authorities for that decision.
Soodmand was buried in “cursed ground” in an unmarked grave in the city of Mashhad. In December, his grave was found bulldozed, his daughter, Rashin Soodmand, told Article 18, a group that promotes religious liberty in Iran.
“As a member of the family of this martyred pastor, I can say that the recent disrespect shown to our father’s grave wounded our hearts yet again,” Rashin told Article 18.
“Our father was killed cruelly and contrary to the law. They buried him in a place they called la’anatabad [accursed place], without our knowledge, and did not even give our family the opportunity to say goodbye to him, or to see his lifeless body,” she added.
“For years we had to travel to this remote place to visit his unmarked grave, and we were not even allowed to construct a gravestone bearing his name. And now they want to completely remove the only sign of him left for us. We will take our appeal to any relevant national or international institution about this disrespect and cruelty.”
A spokesman for Article 18 told The Christian Post that the family discovered that the slab was missing when they went to visit the grave for the 29th anniversary of his death on Dec. 3.
“We don't know when it happened but we know when they found out,” the spokesperson told CP. “The family had gone to the gravesite for the anniversary and saw what had happened.”
Article 18 was told that there had been talks about the possibility of demolishing graves at the cemetery for years. The organization reports that it can be said that "official authorities" are responsible since they want to "give way to new luxury families graves that wealthy can buy.”
Article 18 can't say for sure whether the pastor's body was exhumed from the grave.
"All we know is that this place where he was buried, which used to be outside of the main cemetery by quite a distance [but] has over time come to be just on its outskirts," the Article 18 representative explained. "So it is for this reason that now, after all this time, they have sought to use the space for further development of the cemetery. [It's] so they can offer the site for other families to bury their own dead."
Reza Behrouz, a Texas-based Iranian-American medical researcher and democracy activist, told Fox News the grave's desecration shows "the regime's utter intolerance for religious freedom and its discriminatory policy against non-Muslim Iranians."
"Pastor Soodmand represented what would ideally be a secular Iranian society wherein people could freely practice their faith. A free, secular society is the regime’s primal fear," he said.
In a previous interview with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Rashin shared how, growing up, her father and his friends would mock Christians, telling them they were “unclean” and hurl stones at them.
On one occasion when he was 7, he threw a stone that smashed a woman's water bucket, before fleeing, tripping, falling and hurting his knee.
He expected the Christian woman to punish him, but she helped him up, cleaned his wound and gave him some sweets.
“He had shown hate, but she responded with uncommon love. He never forgot her unusual display of mercy and grace,” she said.
Soodmand later moved to Ahvaz for military service. While there, he was once transported to a hospital where an Armenian Christian cared for him and left him a cross. That night he had a vivid dream in which Jesus gave him something to eat.
The next morning, he realized Jesus had touched him and brought healing to his body. Determined to learn more about Jesus, he found a church in Ahvaz, where he converted to Christianity.
Soodmand was rejected by his family for converting to Christianity; nevertheless, he moved to Tehran and lived with Christians while devoting himself to studying the Bible.
Eventually, he sold books for the Bible Society across the country and became a pastor.
“His concern at this time was not money — it never would be. His first priority was God. He would make sure he got to every Bible study meeting, and he spent many hours being discipled by an older brother in the faith,” his daughter recalled.
Soodmand married a blind woman he looked after called Mahtab Noorvash in 1970 and they lived in Isfahan. Eventually, the pastor, his wife, and their two children moved to Mashad, where he planted a church. However, his church was forced to close amid severe persecution and he was arrested by religious police and tortured, Voice of the Martyrs reported.
According to his daughter, Iranian police gave the pastor an ultimatum: “Either deny your faith and stop what you are doing or we will kill you,” they said. “You have two weeks to think about it.”
Rashid told The Telegraph that her father “refused” to renounce his faith: "He could not renounce his God. His belief in Christ was his life — it was his deepest conviction,” she said.
When church authorities gave him the chance to escape, Soodmand stated: “I am a follower of the great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ, and I am ready to sacrifice my soul for my sheep. For me to escape from this persecution would cause the hearts of my flock to become cold and weak. And I never want to be a bad example for them. So, I am ready to go to prison again and, if necessary, to give my life.”
The pastor continued to work in ministry when he was freed, so was re-arrested in 1990 and put in solitary confinement before he was later executed.
His daughter, who today continues Soodman’s evangelistic work, said her father’s death has not been in vain.
“The blood of Jesus Christ was shed so we could be saved, and since then much more blood has also been shed, so that the good news of salvation can reach many,” she said. “Today I am very proud of my father’s burial place. I no longer see a plain, ordinary dusty place, but I look deeper into it and see what God has produced.”
Iran has for years been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations.
In December, nine Christians were sentenced to a combined total of 45 years in prison by Iran’s Revolutionary Court.
In 2017, an Iranian court sentenced pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, who led a Farsi-language church in Iran, to 10 years in prison for "acting against national security." His wife was sentenced to five years in prison on similar charges.
Last August, the Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News reported on the sentencing of 12 Christian converts to one year in prison for holding worship meetings and evangelizing.
In August 2019, 65-year-old Mahrokh Kanbari was sentenced to one year in prison by the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Karaj. Kanbari was arrested in her home on Christmas Eve 2018 and charged with “acting against national security.”
In September 2019, Iran imprisoned a bookshop owner named Mustafa Rahimi in the Kurdish town of Bukan for selling a Bible.