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Two Iranian Christians were charged with "apostasy" and several others arrested as Iran's parliament approved a bill making the death penalty mandatory for those so convicted.

The measure is part of a new penal code that easily passed in parliament in a 196-7 vote on September 9. Christian and Baha'i communities are most likely to be affected by the bill.

But one source told Compass Direct News that when he discussed the apostasy section with some members of parliament, they said they were unaware of it. The source argued that the Iranian government was trying to bury the bill in the 113-page penal code.

Current Iranian law considers apostasy (leaving Islam) a capital offense, but punishment is left to the discretion of judges.

The Guardian Council, Iran's most influential body, must approve the penal code before it becomes law. Sources say they expect the council, which comprises six theologians and six jurists, to approve it.

Under the past three decades of Iran's Islamist regime, hundreds of citizens who have left Islam and become Christians have been arrested for weeks or months, held in unknown locations, and subjected to mental and physical torture.

The government last executed an Iranian Christian convert from Islam in 1990, though six other Protestant pastors have been assassinated since the execution of Assemblies of God pastor Hossein Soodmand.

Now Soodmand's 35-year-old son, Ramtin Soodmand, is among five Christians arrested in three cities in August. Authorities have not said what the charges are, but sources say they may be charged with spying for foreign powers—a less serious offense than apostasy. Hossein Soodmand was similarly accused of being an American spy.

"Christians are viewed as potential spies allied ...

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