An Iranian Christian convert received 80 lashes on Thursday for drinking communion wine, considered a crime of apostasy under Islamic law. The U.S. State Department denounced the act, perpetrated by Iranian authorities in the northern town of Rashit, as “unjust” in a statement on Friday.
“Iranian Christian convert Mohammadreza Omidi (Youhan) received 80 lashes” on October 14 “for drinking wine as part of communion,” International Christian Concern (ICC) reported on Thursday.
It is a crime for a Muslim to convert to another religion according to Islamic law. The Islamic Republic of Iran strictly upholds this apostasy law, enforcing criminal punishment on people who abandon the Muslim faith.
Omidi has faced multiple criminal charges associated with his apostasy case. He is currently serving two years of internal exile in the city of Borazjan for membership in a house church, or a secret Christian church held in the privacy of one’s home. He previously served two years in prison for the same charge.
Omidi received a summons from his hometown authorities in Rashit on October 10 for him to return home and did so this week. Upon his return to Rashit, Omidi was subjected to the lashings.
This is at least the third time Omidi has received lashings for the charge of drinking communion wine. A sharia (Islamic law) court sentenced Omidi to a public flogging of 80 lashes for the offense in November 2016. Reporting on Omidi’s 2016 sentence, Middle East Concern (MEC) noted that he “had been one of a group of four believers [Christians] from Muslim backgrounds who received 80 lashes for the same charges in 2012.”
Drinking alcohol is not illegal for Christians in Iran, “but under applicable Islamic law it is prohibited for Muslims. The charges brought against Christian converts reflect the state view that a Muslim cannot change his/her religion,” MEC explained.
The U.S. State Department condemned Omidi’s latest lashing in a Twitter statement on Friday.
“Deeply disturbed by reports Iran lashed Mohammad Reza Omidi 80 times for drinking communion wine. He already served two years in prison for belonging to a house church. We condemn these unjust punishments and urge Iran to allow all Iranians the freedom to practice their beliefs,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus wrote.
Indigenous Christian Armenian and Assyrian communities in Iran make up about one percent of the country’s population, according to the Iranian human rights organization IFMAT. An estimated 300,000 Christians currently reside in the country, where the rest of the population is nearly 99 percent Muslim.