The Malta Independent 25 May 2019, Saturday

Man who fled execution in Iran given suspended sentence

Tuesday, 26 March 2019, 15:37 Last update: about 3 months ago

A man who renounced his Islamic faith and fled a death sentence in Iran using a false passport, has been handed a suspended sentence this afternoon.

The 30-year-old was arraigned before magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo by police inspector Lara Butters on charges of possession and use of falsified documents. He had been arrested upon arrival at the airport after his travel documents were found to be forged.

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His lawyer, Noel Bartolo, informed the court that there would be an admission of guilt, but made an impassioned plea for the man’s release.

The accused, an Iranian national, had fled Iran after changing his religion, said the lawyer. Under Iran’s Islamic law, the penalty for apostasy is death. He was part of a group of 5 who tried to escape the country and was one of only two who made it out. The Iranian authorities were only two hours behind him, he said. “The others are probably dead,” said the lawyer.

“This man literally fled his home country to escape death.”

Inspector Butters pointed out that the man had first gone to Turkey from where he had bought his false passport. “This is a serious offence and it is happening often. There are ways and means to seek protection. He bought false documents instead of asking for asylum upon arrival,” she argued.

The accused took the witness stand. Asked by his lawyer why he had left Iran, he said it was because he had changed his religion. “If you change your religion in Iran you will get capital punishment.”

It was a narrow escape, he confirmed, with just two hours separating him from his would-be captors.

He had bought tickets to Turkey and then went into hiding because if caught, he would be sent back to Iran. After that he went to Tunis, he said but it is also a Muslim country and so he came to the first safe country he could, Malta, he explained.

He had not originally planned to come to Malta, he said.

Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo, after hearing submissions on punishment from both sides, taking into account his early admission and cooperation with the prosecution, sentenced the man to 18 months in prison, which were suspended for 3 years.

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