Four Iranian Christians are set to receive 80 lashes each as punishment for drinking communion wine at a house church, while Iran faced further criticism in a U.N. report on its human rights record.
"The sentences handed down to these members of the Church of Iran effectively criminalise the Christian sacrament of sharing in the Lord's Supper and constitute an unacceptable infringement on the right to practice faith freely and peaceably," said Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), who reported the news earlier this week.
"We urge the Iranian authorities to ensure that the nation's legal practices and procedures do not contradict its international obligation under the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to guarantee the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief by all of its religious communities."
CSW Press Officer Kiri Kankhwende confirmed the news to The Christian Post on Friday, sharing that the four members – Behzad Taalipasand, Mehdi Reza Omidi (Youhan), Mehdi Dadkhah (Danial) and Amir Hatemi (Youhanna) – received the verdict on Oct. 20 by a court in the city of Rasht, and have 10 days to appeal the sentence.
"Once an appeal has been lodged and acknowledged, we may have more information in the way of court proceedings or if the punishment is carried out (it has not yet taken place,)" Kankhwende added.
The church members were formerly charged with drinking alcohol and with possession of a receiver and satellite antenna. Some Christian churches in Iran are allowed to operate under very strict restrictions, while underground and house churches are often raided by the government and members are arrested.
Meanwhile, the Islamic country's human rights record and treatment of religious minorities has again been criticized in an October report by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said that since June 2010, over 300 Christians have been allegedly arrested and detained throughout the country.
"On 20 September 2012, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief publicly expressed serious concerns over the arrest and detention of hundreds of Christians, and about the atmosphere of fear in which many churches operate," the report continued.
"In his report to the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran noted that at least 110 Baha'is were imprisoned in the country, mostly for acts including organizing religious gatherings and advocating for the right to education. Such cases run contrary to the country's obligations under article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees everyone's right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion."
Earlier this week, a retired U.S. pastor from California flew back home after being arrested in Iran for protesting in front of Evin Prison in Tehran, where four Christian converts and a human rights advocate are being kept, including U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini.
"I approached Evin Prison, because there I was going to make my protest. And there is where I raised my voice. And I said out loud: 'Let my people go, so they might worship me,'" Eddie Romero of Exodus8one said in a video message on the day of his arrest, noting that the quote is from Exodus 8:1.
"I call on the Islamic Republic of Iran to release these five noble persons, noble men, deserving to be released and put out in the public again to do their good."