Article18, an organization that promotes religious freedom in Iran, first reported on the shocking desecration of Soodmand’s grave, which was located on the edge of the Behesht-e Reza cemetery in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city. The Christian leader was executed by Iran’s regime in December 1990.
The pastor’s daughter, Rashin Soodmand, who now lives in exile in Europe, told Article18: “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.
“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,” Rashin Soodmand told Article18.
She continued, “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 Fox News the family discovered the desecrated grave when they went to visit on the anniversary of his hanging –December 3.
“The Iranian authorities certainly made the call,” the spokesman added. “We don’t know who exactly — perhaps the local mayor — but our understanding is they are expanding the cemetery and selling off plots to wealthy families who can afford them. “
Soodmand converted to Christianity before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. According to Article18, he was active in the Christian organization the Bible Society, and oversaw the Episcopalian church of Isfahan and later the Assemblies of God church in Mashhad.
Iran’s radical Islamic regime, which has engaged in the massive repression of Muslims who converted to Christianity, arrested Soodmand in 1990. He was “tortured and held in solitary confinement for one month,” wrote Article18.
Shortly before his execution, Soodmand wrote to friends who had fled Iran: “By following the example of the great shepherd of the flock, the Lord Jesus Christ, I am willing to sacrifice my life for my sheep. My escape from these dangers would weaken the flock of God and discourage them. I don’t want to be a bad example to them, so I am ready to go to jail again and, if necessary, even to give my life for them.”
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.
“Desecration of prominent national and religious figures’ resting places by the regime is nothing new,” Behrouz added. “Soon after the revolution, the regime demolished the tomb of Reza Shah Pahlavi [the shah of Iran from 1925-1941], who has been given the title of ‘The father of modern Iran.’”
When asked what the U.S and the European Union can do to get Tehran to respect human rights, Behrouz said would leaders should “make the persecution of non-Muslim Iranians by the regime a priority. Iran is a country that has a high rate of conversion from Islam to other religions, including Protestant Christianity.”
“In Iran, the penalties for conversion to another religion from Islam are harsh and, in many cases, execution. This is a brazen infringement on liberty and gross violation of human rights. The U.S. and EU can do much better than complete silence,” Behrouz said.
Dr. Yossi Mansharof, an expert on Iran and Political Shiite Islam from the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS) and the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa, told Fox News: “Generally, it is very important to emphasize that the Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t grant its religious minorities the rights which were stated in its constitution. The [Ali] Khamenei-led regime persecutes the Christians in Iran because more and more Muslim people chose to convert to this religion, as a result of their anger and disgust toward the Islamic Republic of Iran.”