Authorities Abandon Hearing against Iranian AG Pastor

Iranian authorities abandoned preliminary hearings against a detained Assemblies of God lay pastor last month after news of his trial leaked out to the international press, a persecution news agency reported last week.

Hamid Pourmand, 47, was scheduled to appear before an Islamic sharia court in Tehran between Apr. 11 and 14 to face charges of apostasy from Islam and proselytizing Muslims to the Christian belief, according to Calif.-based Compass Direct.

Five months after his arrest last September, the Protestant lay pastor and former colonel in the Iranian army was convicted by a military court martial in mid February for “deceiving the Iranian armed forces” about his conversion to the Christian faith 25 years ago. According to the judge of the military court, Pourmand was given a three-year sentence because he withheld from his superiors the fact that he was a Christian. Iran’s Islamic law statutes forbid a non-Muslim to hold any position of authority over Muslims.

Currently, the military court verdict is under appeal with the Supreme Court. However, with the judiciary’s threat to try Pourmand before a sharia court of Islamic law now being carried out, sources say he could face the death penalty.

Christian Persecution watchdog groups such as Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom and UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) have been protesting the trial of the Protestant lay pastor.

According to CSW, Pourmand is the first Iranian convert to be charged with apostasy since 1993 when Iranian Pastor Mehdi Dibaj was condemned to death. Although Dibaj was released three weeks later following protest from the international community, he was murdered six months later.

CSW reported last month that it was working with other NGOs to raise Pourmand’s case with the UK Foreign Office, the UN and the EU.