The grave of an Iranian Christian pastor who was tortured and hanged for renouncing Islam and converting to Christianity has been bulldozed.
The Rev. Hossein Soodmand converted to Christianity before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and was actively involved in Christian ministry prior to facing execution for his faith in 1990.
The discovery of the desecrated gravesite was first reported by Article18, an organization that promotes religious freedom in Iran. A spokesman for the organization told Fox News that Soodmand's family had found the bulldozed grave when they came to pay their respects on Dec. 3, the anniversary of his hanging.
The pastor's daughter, Rashin Soodmand, who currently lives in exile in Europe, spoke to Article18 about how Iran's recent actions have affected the family.
As a member of the family of this martyred pastor, I can say that the recent disrespect shown to our father's grave wounded our hearts yet again.
Our father was killed cruelly and contrary to the law. They buried him in a place they called la'anatabad [accursed place], without our knowledge, and did not even give our family the opportunity to say goodbye to him, or to see his lifeless body.
For years we had to travel to this remote place to visit his unmarked grave, and we were not even allowed to construct a gravestone bearing his name.
And now they want to completely remove the only sign of him left for us. We will take our appeal to any relevant national or international institution about this disrespect and cruelty.
A spokesman for Article18 said that the family had not been allowed to lay a proper gravestone, and that the only sign that anyone was buried there was an unmarked concrete slab.
When the family returned in December, even that had been removed, and all that remained was soil.
"The Iranian authorities certainly made the call," the spokesman said. "We don't know who exactly — perhaps the local mayor — but our understanding is they are expanding the cemetery and selling off plots to wealthy families who can afford them."
Soodmand was active in Christian organizations such as the Bible Society and led an Episcopalian church in Isfahan and later an Assemblies of God church in Mashhad.
But in 1990, he was arrested and held in solitary confinement for over a month.
According to Article18, during a short furlough from prison, friends advised him to flee the country to save his own life, but Soodmand refused.
"By following the example of the great shepherd of the flock, the Lord Jesus Christ, I am willing to sacrifice my life for my sheep. My escape from these dangers would weaken the flock of God and discourage them. I don't want to be a bad example to them, so I am ready to go to jail again and, if necessary, even to give my life for them," he wrote to his friends.
Two weeks later, he was martyred after being convicted of apostasy by a special court of clergy.