A human rights group wants the international community to keep pressure on Iran during the Christmas season and into next year to secure the acquittal and release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and all others unjustly imprisoned or facing execution.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide says that in addition to the plight of Nadarkhani, who is facing death penalty for converting to Christianity, they have received reports of another pastor jailed and tortured.
Pastor Behnam Irani from the Church of Iran denomination is serving a five-year sentence in Ghezel Hesar prison in Karaj for charges of apostasy and “action against the order,” reports CSW.
Irani is being held in a cell with inmates who regularly beat him, and is now having difficulty walking due to injuries sustained during these assaults. During the first few months of his imprisonment, the pastor was held in solitary confinement, where guards would repeatedly wake him from sleep as a form of psychological torture, according to CSW.
Before being moved to his current cell, Irani was transferred to an overcrowded room where no one could lie down to sleep.
In April 2010, Irani was conducting a house church service when he was assaulted and arrested by Iranian officials. He was released on bail and was tried in January of this year on charges of apostasy. He was found guilty of “action against the order” and was sentenced to one year in prison.
In May, after a failed appeal, Irani was again violently arrested and taken to jail to serve the one-year term, said CSW officials. Shortly before he was to be released he was informed in mid-October that he would remain in prison to serve a suspended five-year sentence for “action against national security” that had been handed down by a revolutionary court in 2007, and confirmed at appeal in 2008.
The verdict against Irani includes the accusation that he is an apostate, a crime punishable by death in the country.
“CSW is deeply concerned for the health and welfare of Pastor Irani, and urges the Iranian government to ensure that he, and all prisoners, are protected from assault, receive necessary medical attention, and are treated in accordance with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, as defined by the UN,” CSW advocacy director Andrew Johnston said.
Nadarkhani, meanwhile, continues to face a death sentence for apostasy. The evangelical pastor’s lawyer recently learned that the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, has asked the presiding judge over the trial, Ghazi Kashani, to delay the pending judgment and keep him in prison for another year, Present Truth Ministries said in a statement Thursday.
Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old house church leader from the Church of Iran denomination, was convicted of apostasy last year and was sentenced to death by hanging. The case has been handed to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for review.
While a decision will likely not be reached until another year, “there are no assurances that he will not be executed,” warned PTM. “It could happen at any time. This is the way that the Iranian government operates with executions. They do not give advance notice and it is done in secret.”
Following a trial last month, another Church of Iran member, Alireza Seyyedian, was sentenced to six years imprisonment for “propagating against an order of the regime and acting against national security,” according to CSW. Seyyedian’s lawyers have yet to receive written confirmation of the verdict given verbally.
“It is … unacceptable that the Iranian regime continues to portray legitimate religious activities of minority faiths as a national security threat, and to subject people to unjust and lengthy prison terms on this basis,” Johnston stated.