The attorney for the group, prominent human rights advocate Mohammad Ali Dadkhah — who also represents Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor charged with apostasy and sentenced to death for leaving Islam and converting to Christianity — was not able to attend Sunday’s court appearance, according to sources who said his flight from Tehran was fogged in. The 12 represented themselves to the judge.
“Their defense was that they were performing religious rituals that are protected by law,” DeMars said.
Though the Iranian constitution grants protection to religious minorities born into religions, such as Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews, over the last year and a half individuals in these minority communities have reported increased pressure and clashes with government officials and Revolutionary Guards as their influence continues to mount throughout the country.
But converting, or more specifically, the act of turning from Islam, can be punishable by death.