Apostasy in the Islamic Republic of Iran as a reason for flight

An article by Mohamad Hosein Tavasolli

Iran is one of 12 countries where apostasy from the Islamic faith is punishable by death. Mohamad Hosein Tavasolli had to flee the Islamic state of God because of this. However, his application for asylum was rejected and his deportation was only suspended.

An atheist at the age of 16 and thus a alien in the Islamic state of God Iran

Mohamad Hosein Tavasolli

I grew up in a well-off, open and liberal family in Shiraz, which was moderately religious. At the age of about 16 (2012) I realized for myself that I can no longer believe in a God and I am therefore an atheist. At the age of about 18 years (2014), I regularly attended meetings of a group of trustworthy like-minded atheists. After I found out by phone during a car trip that one of our group meeting places was searched by the Iranian security service Etelat, I immediately went into hiding and hid with friends in a distant city. Within 10 days a friend got a fake passport with visa for me, with which I could fly from the airport Khomenei in Teheran to Athens on 15.12.2015. From there I flew on to Düsseldorf and arrived in Germany the next day. Since then my asylum procedure has been in progress.

My escape from the Islamic Republic of Iran

The political group in which I was active has questioned the regime – the Iranian state is responding to this with all its rigour. We could not talk openly about it. We exchanged ideas on the Internet or in groups in which we felt safe. Those who risked too much were quickly put in prison with all the consequences.

In 2015, after some of my comrades-in-arms had been arrested, I realized that I had to escape. I had read a lot about Germany, especially about how liberal it is, how everyone could move freely, how everyone could accept the religion of their choice or simply believe in no God. I also could no longer “play as if”: as if I agreed with the regime and the religious rule and its representatives. So I fled to Germany. Here, unfortunately, I met again in the camp and in the collective accommodation my opponents from whom I had fled. So I had to be very careful. After a long search I came across a group of secular refugees. I can exchange with them; we are taking action to make citizens who are unaware of this situation aware of the situation of the apostates in Iran, but also in the whole Islamic world. I wish all people in the world the freedom that can be enjoyed in Germany. The protests in Iran have given me some hope again: Perhaps it can still come to a secular state. What is certain is that many people (especially the young) no longer want to live under the old regime and religious rule. Their private life should no longer be controlled and restricted.

I have been in Germany since 2015, learned German and integrated myself. I am still waiting for my asylum application to be granted. In Germany I have contacted the Central Council of Ex-Muslims to find like-minded people as an ex-Muslim. I have also been in contact with the aid organisation “Secular in Exile” since 2016. After an association “Secular Refugee Aid e.V. – Atheists help” was founded in Cologne, I am also in contact with it. There are also activities in Stuttgart that are of interest for ex-Muslims, e.g. lectures by Mina Ahadi (1st chairwoman of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims e.V.) organized by the gbs regional group Stuttgart and since 2018 also regular meetings of the group “Secular Refugee Aid Stuttgart”, where refugees from Syria, Iraq and Iran participate and we discuss problems and plan activities together.

I stand up for other refugee atheists and draw attention to the character of the Islamist regime and the threat to dissidents who are politically persecuted and executed in Iran.

From here I would also like to support the worldwide implementation of Article 18 of human rights (freedom of thought, conscience and religion): Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in teaching, practice, worship and observance. The Iranian state responds to apostasy with all severity. I would be threatened with 20 to 30 years in prison in Iran – if I were lucky – and possibly I would be executed immediately.

Mohamad Hosein Tavasolli was born in Iran in 1996. He has an education as a welder and an IT education and worked in Iran until he fled. He was politically active in an atheist group and had to flee into exile when the group was discovered by the Islamic regime. In Germany he completed several language courses. Currently he is fighting for the recognition of his reason for flight “atheist / apostasy”. His first asylum application has just been rejected, a new application is in preparation. The current status is “toleration” and “suspension of deportation”. Hosein Tavasolli has attended language courses and was also employed at times. The Duldung notice explicitly states that “gainful employment is not (no longer) permitted” – with the justification that a consolidation of the residence status should be prevented.

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Interview with Mina Ahadi on criticising Islam in Germany

Mina Ahadi, Chairwoman of the Council of Ex-Muslims Germany, was honored as one of five freedom heroes by the BILD newspaper in September 2019. The Atheist Refugee Relief took this opportunity to talk to Ms. Ahadi about the changed debate on Islam in Germany.

Mina Ahadi and Vitali Klitschko

Atheist Refugee Relief: Mrs. Ahadi, you were honoured this year on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the BILD newspaper together with the Klitschko brothers, Joshua Wong and Raed al-Saleh as a fighter for freedom. This is significant insofar as criticizing Islam used to be defamed with the politically instrumentalizing term “Islamophobia”. You yourself were often put in the political right corner. What has changed? Continue reading “Interview with Mina Ahadi on criticising Islam in Germany”

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Secularists demonstrate in Iraq

A man sings a song that sounds similar to the religious chants that were also heard in IS videos. He is filming himself with his cell phone as he walks down a street in Baghdad where a demonstration had recently taken place. The demonstration was brutally suppressed. Thick smoke rises to the sky and car tires are still burning. But the man sings no religious song. He sings: “Oh world, I come to you to tell you that this is not a religious revolution, but a humanist revolution. They shot at us with guns and artillery, but the Enlightenment follows us revolutionaries.”
One of the triggers of the riots is the bad labor situation in the country. But this time, unlike in the past, according to the newspaper Al-Bayina Al-Jadida, there were no slogans or banners to be seen.  People no longer seem to follow the old religious or political groups. They seem to be looking for new ways beyond these.

The Islamic world is changing. After a long period of religious fundamentalism, the group of young people who long for a modern, enlightened society is growing. For example, in “The Arab world in seven charts: Are Arabs turning their backs on religion”, the BBC noted that atheism is spreading in the Islamic world. Atheist Refugee Relief is also experiencing a steady increase of 150% in requests from nonreligious people throughout the Islamic world in this year alone. Given this, it seems strange that so much consideration is given to religion in the integration process in Germany. Young people in the Middle East are already a lot ahead.

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Secularists demonstrate in Iraq

A man sings a song that sounds similar to the religious chants that were also heard in IS videos. He is filming himself with his cell phone as he walks down a street in Baghdad where a demonstration had recently taken place. The demonstration was brutally suppressed. Thick smoke rises to the sky and car tires are still burning. But the man sings no religious song. He sings: “Oh world, I come to you to tell you that this is not a religious revolution, but a humanist revolution. They shot at us with guns and artillery, but the Enlightenment follows us revolutionaries.”
One of the triggers of the riots is the bad labor situation in the country. But this time, unlike in the past, according to the newspaper Al-Bayina Al-Jadida, there were no slogans or banners to be seen.  People no longer seem to follow the old religious or political groups. They seem to be looking for new ways beyond these.

The Islamic world is changing. After a long period of religious fundamentalism, the group of young people who long for a modern, enlightened society is growing. For example, in “The Arab world in seven charts: Are Arabs turning their backs on religion”, the BBC noted that atheism is spreading in the Islamic world. Atheist Refugee Relief is also experiencing a steady increase of 150% in requests from nonreligious people throughout the Islamic world in this year alone. Given this, it seems strange that so much consideration is given to religion in the integration process in Germany. Young people in the Middle East are already a lot ahead.

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Violence against ex-Muslim on open street in Flensburg

Amed Sherwan (Photo: private)

Even in non-Muslim countries threats and violence against ex-Muslims are unfortunately not uncommon. A recent case from northern Germany bears witness to this.

Flensburg. The confessed ex-Muslim and secular activist Amed Sherwan just came out of a house entrance when he was hit on the head and feet from behind and was beaten and kicked lying on the floor. This incident took place in broad daylight in the presence of numerous people in the center of Flensburg. After the police and ambulance were alerted quickly, the worst could be averted.
This was preceded by an argument between the perpetrator and Sherwan two days earlier at a street festival in the idyllic port city. The perpetrator had obviously recognized Sherwan and at first only verbally attacked him. When Sherwan pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket shortly afterwards to take pictures at the party, the perpetrator again insulted Sherwan and accused him of having taken a picture of his wife. The woman spat at Sherwan and the man threatened Sherwan. Two days later he then carried out the threat. Continue reading “Violence against ex-Muslim on open street in Flensburg”

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How Islamist networks silence critical voices on Facebook

It is 13 July 2019 when Aida (name changed) calls me and says: “Facebook has blocked my page again. I don’t have access anymore”. It is now already the twentieth time that this happened to her. This time it’s about the accusation of hate speech and nudity. The entire Facebook page is now no longer accessible. Not even for her. Everything is gone. All her work, the critical discussions with the subscribers. Everything lost.

Many bloggers who are critical of Islam and the misanthropic culture in their home countries are like her. They stand up for the rights of women, homosexuals, atheists or other minorities who have to live in constant fear in this social system. They also fight for the modernisation of their home countries and the banishment of religion from public life and above all from the state.

Aida fights mainly for feminism and against religion. She displays the violence that society in Islamic countries is using against women on Facebook and has thus achieved growing popularity in the Arab community. She is part of a liberal network that discusses on Facebook how to improve the situation in the home countries. Her site was an important part of it. She had about 7000 followers and the number grew every day.

All this is now taken off the net because a post was reported as hate speech. There were also reports of nudity being displayed. Triggers were pictures of a child who was exposed to massive violence by the family. Aida had published it to point out that this child is not protected from this abuse by the Iraqi state. She herself knows the everyday nature of violence against children from her own experience. She still suffers from the consequences today. In her home country, the right of parents to their children is seen as more important than the rights of children. Aida mainly blames religion for this.

What followed this post was something all too familiar to all critical bloggers. There follows a wave of reports to Facebook. These described her post as “hate speech”, “inciting the people” or “immorality (Nudity)”. When a certain amount of reports are made, the facebook page is automatically blocked. This method is very effective. Even well-known sites like Atheist Republic have been exposed to such actions.

But who is behind these Islamist networks?

Islamist net activist Abdullah A.

It’s mostly Islamists like in this case Abdullah A., who is supposed to work for the Iraqi embassy in India, who incite these reports. He has 21.000 followers on Facebook and has therefore a big influence. The 20-year-old talks openly about “his army”. He called through this channel to block the side of Aida. What followed were over 600 reports to Facebook – the site was completely blocked because complaints about other posts had already been received before. When the page was off the net, you could see on Mr. A.’s page how they congratulated each other that another critic was silenced.

This story happens every day with many critics. It is an unequal struggle. Because when Aida had received threats over Facebook and she reported them, she got as a reply that it wouldn’t violate the Facebook guidelines. Maybe it was only because she submitted the complaint on her own and could not activate an “army”.

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Social work free of religion – collaboration with the Brighter Brains Institute

We are excited to announce our collaboration with the Brighter Brains Institute! More and more secular organizations are recognizing the need to make a contribution to the accomplishment of social tasks through humanitarian commitment. Because it is a problem that the emergency in certain regions of the world is used to spread religious dogma.

Clinic for Disease Prevention

A particularly impressive example of this work is the “Humanists Global” project by the Brighter Brains Institute in San Francisco, USA. They provide concrete help in the form of microcredits, donations in kind and medical aid in many Asian and African countries. “Humanists Global” has even founded four humanist-oriented kindergartens and two schools. There is also cooperation with other atheistic organisations for the construction of hospitals.

The aim of all these efforts, apart from helping to alleviate acute need, is to counteract the devastating effects of religious practices in the regions. We of the Atheist Refugee Relief consider this work very important in order to improve the lives of the people in these countries. But financial aid connot be  as important as opening the mind to rational thinking and humanistic values of tolerance.

All the more we are very happy that “Humanists Global” will cooperate with the Atheist Refugee Relief to improve the situation of people who are free of faith.

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Atheist Refugee Relief speaks in EU Parliament

On 20.06.2019 the European Humanist Federation invited the Atheist Refugee Relief to the EU Parliament to a meeting with the headline “Are you a true humanist”. Together with two other humanistic organisations (humanism.org.uk and humanistischverbond.nl) we were able to point out the special situation of non-religious refugees. Representatives of the Dutch government and the European EASO were also present.

The Atheist Refugee Relief described the special situation of atheists with a muslim background seeking asylum in Germany. Stefan Paintner illustrated by examples the methods how critics in Europe are silenced very effectively, like the shadowing of Saudi refugees by Saudi authorities or the activities of islamic shiite militia (e.g. the biker gang “Al Salam 313”, which was recently brought into focus by the police with a large-scale raid). Only very few people dared to speak under these circumstances and they needed special protection.

Furthermore, he also made concrete demands regarding the procedure. For example, a trusted person of the refugee should be allowed to be present during the asylum interview in order to check the correct communication of what has been said. It had often been the case that essential contents of the asylum interviews had not been translated correctly or left out completely. Furthermore, the residence restriction imposed on non-religious asylum seekers in Germany should be dropped completely, as this would greatly increase the safety of those affected.

 

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It’s like taking off a very old and dusty mask – leaving Islam in Yemen

More and more people in the Islamic world are leaving their religion. Many do this in silence, but some write about it. A particularly fascinating example is the blog of a young woman from Yemen. It takes a lot of courage from this conservative country, which has also been at war for almost four years, to express criticism of Islam.

We have succeeded in making contact with this extraordinarily courageous woman. We were interested in who was behind this Facebook page. However, when we questioned her, we were anxious to preserve her identity and did not ask any personal questions.

 

You live as a young woman in Yemen. What is the situation for women there and how has it changed in recent years?

The situation for women here is absolutely terrible, and has become even worse in recent years. Yemen has become very unsafe specifically for women. There are now more than ever, abductions and rape cases, followed by honor killings. Many women choose not to speak up for themselves in fear of mistreatment, embarrassment and judgment by the people around them, because this brings shame to their families. Women are forced into marriages that they do not want and make them unhappy. People here believe that marriage is the most important goal that women can reach, and that it is more important than education. Some families don’t even allow their daughters to go to schools. Child marriages happen in parts of the country. I have personally known and seen young girls who were married to old men, some of them were my classmates in elementary school. I have read online that child marriage has even been on the rise in recent years because of the war, as families sell their daughters into marriage for money because they are poor.

What would you wish for your country?

First of all, for the war to stop, since it is causing so much suffering. Secondly, to witness the day when my people start accepting the idea that change is not bad and that breaking habits and traditions sometimes has its own advantages. Everyone knows that Yemen is facing a war at the moment but how many of them know something other than that? Yemen has a very important history and unique culture but instead of repeating the same historical events, we need to finally let go of those bad habits and traditions and stick to the good ones. We’re already in 2019 but people are still living in the past till this day and to be honest, it makes me quite sad.

You are no longer religious. Why do you no longer believe in Islam? And since when?

I might not have been a strict Muslim, but I believed that Islam was perfection at its finest and that there weren’t any flaws and holes in it for anyone to criticize. However, ever since I was a kid, I’d still feel guilty for not following what my religion has taught me, in fear of burning in hell forever. I remember one time I took off my hijab for the first time in my school’s bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and started checking myself out but couldn’t fathom why I still felt super guilty about it and scared of anyone suddenly knocking on the door at the same time. So I started reading more and more and meeting different people online and getting mixed feelings from them about Islam until one day, I had a wakeup call and realized some things. For example, a few questions popped up in my head such as,”Why would people hate Islam if it were a peaceful religion?” and why would Allah punish me for not following his rules? Why does this Allah care more about women’s hair and bodies and why do people kill in the name of this God? Is he even out there and if it’s true, why is he going to burn those who don’t believe in him? I started finding many flaws in what’s supposed to be the “One and Only God” out there as Muslims say, so I stopped praying to him. I wouldn’t deal with such unforgiving, angry and narcissistic humans, so why would I worship a God with those traits?

»I no longer see black and white, my insides are full of beautiful colors now.«

How has life changed for you in Yemen since you left Islam?

Mentally, a lot. I felt like I was reborn in the same exact place. It’s like taking off a very old and dusty mask I’ve been forced to wear for years. Although I’m still forced to wear the burka, the woman behind it is no longer the same woman as before. I no longer see black and white, my insides are full of beautiful colors now.

It is very dangerous to leave Islam. Articles 12 and 259 of Yemen’s penal code provide for the death penalty for apostasy. How do you deal with it? Can you hide the fact that you are no longer a Muslim?

Like many other Ex-Muslims, I have no choice but to hide my identity and be careful of revealing any details that may cost me my life. There was a period of my life when I felt extremely lonely and depressed that I didn’t even care about anything anymore, so I would post my pictures on social media platforms and stop praying at home and that wasn’t smart of me, to be honest. But like I said, I simply didn’t care whether I was alive or dead the next day. But as people whom I met online were on my side and assured me that I wasn’t alone, I’ve decided to be more careful and think about every move I make because one wrong move and it’s the end for me.

Is there not a great danger that your family will find out that you are no longer a believer?

My family knows that I’m different from other typical Yemeni girls who are supposed to behave good and be very religious. But none of them know that I no longer do my daily prayers, that I have left Islam and that a couple of internet friends have seen photos of me. The males in my family are very controlling of us women and if they ever find out about this then I’ll be in huge danger, at great risk of punishment for my apostasy and possibly at risk of honor killing. My sister is also no longer religious. Thankfully, her and I are very close so we’ve always got each other’s back.

You run a Facebook page that is critical of religion and about freedom, especially for women. Why do you take such a risk to be discovered?

Most people in my society were forced to believe in something they had little choice in. I want my people specifically to open up their hearts to new things and ideas from another Yemeni and for them to think outside the box. My page is like an open door for anyone who seeks answers outside the context of religions and wants to know what it’s like being a free thinker.

What would happen if your family found out that you were running this Facebook page?

Absolutely horrible and unfair things would await me. This includes me being physically beaten, emotionally and mentally abused, as well as arranging marriage for me without my consent. Because as people in my society always say, a woman cannot be set free or else she’ll end up doing sinful things and that’s why she needs a man in her life to control her. Even just thinking about what would await me is terrifying.

What do you personally want for your life?

I want to know and feel what it’s like being in a healthy and safe environment and I want to help others in need of help and support. I want to be able to speak up for myself without fearing the consequences. I also want other people to know that Yemen is more than just the war that you hear about on the news and to share information about the lives of ordinary women here. There are individuals like me who want to make a change and do better for our society. I’m not by any means religious but I want to send a message that Yemen should be for everyone; religious or not, Muslims, Jews or Christians and that if we can all live together and accept our differences, we can rise again.

Thank you so much for your time. I wish you all the best and that all your wishes will come true one day.

 

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Shiite Islamists threaten human rights activist in Germany

Islamist terrorism has dominated the headlines in the European media for many years. The attacks in the Bataclan, in Brussels, at Charlie Hebdo, to name but a few. They show the cruel face of religious extremism. All these attacks were committed by Sunni Muslims, who were incited on the Internet by the ideas of the Islamic State, or in mosques by corresponding sermons. What is forgotten here is that the same extremism also exists on the part of Shiite Muslims. We remember the death fatwa which was pronounced against the British author Salman Rushdie in 1989. Even the well-known musician Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) supported these threats. Rushdie had to go into hiding for many years. After the attack of the USA on Iraq a Shiite militia has formed there, which represents similar extreme views as the Sunni IS. Only the strategy they are pursuing is different.

Worood Zuhair

I meet the well-known atheistic blogger Worood Zuhair in a café in a German city. She had contacted me because the death threats against her became more and more intense. We, the Atheist Refugee Relief, have been accompanying the young woman since her arrival in Germany. She comes from Karbala in Iraq, the holy city of the Shiites. There she had already turned away from Islam after realizing that all the atrocities committed by the Islamic State in the name of Islam were also committed by the Prophet Mohammed. This led to even greater tensions within her family, so that one day she was beaten up  by her own brother into an incomplete spinal paralysis. In 2015 she fled via Turkey to Europe. Since then, she has been campaigning on the Internet for women’s rights, especially in Iraq. She blames Islam, which is cementing patriarchal structures and justifying injustices, for the backwardness of her region.

Zuhair shows me her WhatsApp messages she had received lately. It’s a flood of insults. They are predominantly sexually degrading and extremely misogynistic. What is striking about this news is that there is repeated reference to a man named Mohammed Mandalawi, nickname Bunea. Quote: “I will tell my friend Mohammed Bunea, who is in Germany, to kick you in your rotten c***”.

 

Mohammed Mandalawi

Mohammed Mandalawi is the leader of the newly founded rocker gang “Al-Salam 313” in Essen, Germany. The 313 refers to the 313 companions of Iman Al-Mahdi. The logo of the rocker gang is a white dove. This is also the symbol of the paramilitary unit “Jaish al-Mahdi”, which is said to have provided death squads in Iraq. The “Jaish al-Mahdi”, or “peace brigades”, are under the control of the influential spiritual politician Al-Sadr. They have military training and were involved in the attacks against ISIS in Mossul. When one of Al-Sadr’s representatives, Muhammed Talakani, visited Germany, Mohammed Mandalawi had himself photographed with him several times at private joint activities.

Mohammed Mandalawi with Muhammed Talakani

Worood Zuhair says “Muhammed Talakani is a religious agitator. Shortly after he spoke about the sinful behavior of Iraqi blogger Tara Fares in a public speech, she was shot.” Zuhair now finds herself confronted here in Germany with the same groups she fled from back in Iraq. Groups that know only one answer to criticism of Islam. Those who reject Western culture. She now fears that there will be a similar retaliation against her as there was against Tara Fares.

Zuhair’s fears are entirely justified. On the one side, a young woman who has only the word and fights on the Internet for more freedom and against the deprivation of women’s rights in Islamic culture. On the other side, an armed militia, linked in politics, highly armed and trained militarily.

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