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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 February 2008, 13:09 GMT
EU attacks Iran's new penal code
By Roger Hardy
Middle East analyst, BBC News

The European Union has criticised the new penal code being drafted in Iran, particularly a section that imposes the death penalty for giving up Islam.

The EU said this section and other parts of the code violated Tehran's commitments under international human rights conventions.

Death for apostasy already exists in Iran under Sharia - or Islamic - law.

But the changes would for the first time bring the punishment into the criminal code.

Scholars divided

An EU statement expressed deep concern about what it calls the ongoing deterioration in the human rights situation in Iran. It singled out Section Five of the draft penal code currently before the Iranian parliament, imposing the death penalty for apostasy.

In the past, Iranian courts have handed down the death penalty in such cases, but have done so relying on Sharia law.

If the draft is approved by parliament, the sentence will be formalised in the country's criminal code.

Muslim scholars are divided over what the appropriate punishment should be for leaving Islam.

Some conservatives regard it as such a heinous offence as to warrant the death penalty.

Others believe it is not up to politicians or governments to set the penalty but is for God to decide on the Day of Judgement.

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