Christian convert facing prison in Iran may be deported from Turkey

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A Christian convert who fled Iran in 2013 to escape his impending imprisonment on account of his faith now faces the

Mojtaba Keshavarz Ahmadi,

threat of deportation from Turkey.

Mojtaba Keshavarz Ahmadi, who is 56 years old, was arrested suddenly on 29 January by the Turkish immigration authorities and transferred to a deportation camp in western Turkey, where he remains.

Mojtaba was accused of leaving his city of residence, Düzce, which is near Istanbul, without authorisation – something he denies and for which the Turkish authorities provided no evidence.

He is now being held in the Ayvacık Geri Gönderme Merkezi detention centre, nearly six hours from Düzce, and his identity card has been taken from him.

Despite being in Turkey for over a decade and applying for refugee status, Mojtaba has never been interviewed about his case and has therefore never been granted official protection.

Meanwhile, facing a three-year prison sentence in Iran on account of his Christian faith and activities, there can be little doubt that Mojtaba is worthy of asylum.

Article18 has documented Mojtaba’s case and published his Witness Statement in 2022, an excerpt of which features in our upcoming annual report:

“My interrogators told me frankly and boldly: ‘You have no rights and no choice because your religion has already been chosen for you… You were born a Muslim, and Shiite. Shiite blood runs in your veins and you don’t have any other choice’. But religion or belief isn’t something that can be inherited or transmitted through blood.”

Mojtaba also explained in his Witness Statement how he did not immediately seek asylum, having hoped one day to return to Iran. 

“But as time went by, the situation became more difficult for Persian-speaking Christians in Iran, and the wave of persecution of Christians intensified,” he said. “Therefore, I officially became a refugee by referring to the UN Refugee Agency … [but] I am still in a temporary situation and I haven’t even been interviewed.”

Last year, Article18 released a joint report, highlighting the precarious situation of Iranian Christian converts in Turkey like Mojtaba and their “critical” need for new resettlement opportunities. 

The threat of deportation was one of the issues raised in the report, with several other Iranian Christians having been transferred to deportation camps in recent years.

An informed source, who wished to remain anonymous, told Article18: “There is a concerning trend, where individuals with valid asylum claims are being put in these camps, seemingly arbitrarily. 

“There have been other instances in which people have been accused, for example, of not being at home, and then an immigration officer from the Turkish authorities has unexpectedly knocked on their door. If they don’t open the door, they are accused of not being in their designated location, whereas they may only have gone to the shops.”

Article18 calls on the Turkish immigration authorities to release Mojtaba and other Iranian Christians like him who are detained without cause. And in line with our report recommendations, we further call on Turkey to illustrate due diligence in assessing the refugee claims of Iranian Christians, and to provide a timeline within which their claims will be processed.

We also implore refugee-receiving governments to urgently provide new resettlement opportunities and develop sponsorship programmes to expedite the resettlement process for Iranian Christians and other refugees in Turkey. — Article18