IRAN: Lawyers and activists call for adoption ruling to be overturned

Maryam, Lydia and SamOne hundred and twenty lawyers and activists have written an open letter to the head of the judiciary in Iran, asking him to overturn a court’s decision that a couple’s adopted daughter be removed from their care because they are Christian converts.

Sam Khosravi and Maryam Falahi from Bushehr in southwest Iran adopted Lydia from an orphanage as a three-month-old baby in February 2019. The ruling against them was handed down by a court in Bushehr on 19 July 2020, despite Judge Muhammad Hassan Dashti acknowledging that Lydia feels an “intense emotional attachment” to them and that there is “zero chance” of finding another adoptive family, given her chronic health problems. The ruling was upheld by a court of appeal on 22 September.

The signatories of the letter, published by Iranian news agencies, call on the head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, to annul the verdict, which they say goes against both national and international law.

They state that regarding the care and protection of abused, unaccompanied or orphaned children, Iran’s constitution pays attention only to human and moral aspects, not religion, and they point out that Iran, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is obliged to serve the best interests of the child and his or her health.

Lydia suffers from heart and gastrointestinal diseases, and Welfare and Forensic Medicine Supervisors have confirmed that Sam and Maryam (who worked as a nurse at Bushehr Heart Hospital for many years) provide the best care for her.

Prior to the appeal hearing, two Grand Ayatollahs issued fatwas that due to Lydia’s poor health and emotional attachment to her parents her adoption by Christian converts is “permissible”. One of them, Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei, stated that “being a non-Muslim does not prevent them, and choosing a religion for the child should be done after puberty. The issuance of this sentence is not only contrary to international law, but also to Iranian law.”

Full text of letter:

Mr Raisi,

Honourable Chairman of the Judiciary,

Greetings and prayers,

Respectfully, citing the third, 19th, 34th, 37th, 38th, 154th, and 156th articles of the constitution.

The constitution, mother of all laws, in its 19th article explicitly speaks of the equality of all Iranian citizens and nationals, regardless of their race, language, religion, etc., such that belonging to a particular religion can never be a source of superiority or discrimination. 

In particular, regarding the care and protection of abused or unaccompanied children, the constitution pays attention only to human and moral aspects, meaning that any Iranian citizen, regardless of his or her religion, can apply for custody of a child from the state welfare organisation. 

At the same time, the law for the protection of abused and orphaned children exists to support children who either no longer have parents, or whose parents do not have the competence or ability to care for and raise their children. 

The legislature has set out in this law, and subsequent laws, and explicitly stated that Iranian nationals who are eligible, in terms of having the financial means and moral rectitude, can apply to the state welfare organisation for guardianship of a child. 

Nowhere in these laws or regulations is there any mention of the religion of the applicant, but, rather, in the first place, being an Iranian citizen of good moral character is the criterion for eligibility.

It should also be noted that, according to the 12th and 13th articles of the constitution, those who belong to Iran’s recognised religions [including Christians], as authorised in the constitution, will have no restrictions in this field to prevent them from applying for guardianship of a child – those such as Sam Khosravi and Maryam Falahi, who are honourable Christian citizens of the country.

Not only are this couple well respected in Bushehr, but they have also, with great moral care, dignity, and humanity, requested custody of a child from the welfare organisation, to which this institution also agreed through its legal procedures. And during the subsequent two years, their adopted child has become their shining light. 

But, unfortunately, the welfare organisation later filed an illegal request to the court to revoke the couple’s custody of the child. 

The court for family affairs and later the court for appeals, without considering the rules of jurisprudence, as well as religious and human commonalities, or the health of this child – including a medical certificate outlining her severe heart disease – and regardless of the love and affection created between the child and her parents, has ordered the cancellation of their custody. 

This ruling has also been issued without considering the need to serve the best interests of the child and his or her health, as obligated by article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, [to which Iran is a signatory] and the rules and principles of law, as well as failing to comply with jurisprudential religious verdicts and principles of child rights. 

Therefore, considering that the duty of the judiciary is to support and realise the individual rights of Iranian citizens and to establish judicial justice, we ask His Excellency, as the head of this branch, in line with the principles mentioned in the constitution, jurisprudential rules, and the religious verdicts of some senior clerics, to issue an appropriate order to stop the execution of this sentence, and to make a proper ruling to annul any such future sentences, which are against the law and Sharia.

Of course, His Excellency’s worthy order will show the importance of judicial justice in Iran and the realisation of individual rights and the protection of children in society by the judiciary.

(Article 18)