Trial Begins for Jailed Iranian Pastor Five Months After Arrest

A 47-year-old Assemblies of God pastor in Iran who was arrested along with more than 80 other Christian leaders last September, went on trial last week before a military court in the capital city of Tehran amid international concern he may face execution if convicted of "spreading Christianity" and "deceiving people about his faith."

Rev. Hamid Pourmand—a Protestant convert from Islam—was one of 86 evangelical church leaders that were arrested as they gathered for the first day of the annual general conference of Assemblies of God in Iran at the church’s denominational center in Karaj, 18 miles west of the capital Tehran. Sources say shortly before the meeting began, police burst in, arresting everyone in attendance.

After being interrogated, all those detained were released by nightfall except for ten pastors and elders. When the pastors were released separately late on the night of Sept. 12, they were strictly warned not to contact one another or other members of the church. As a result, it was not until the morning Sept. 15 that the Assemblies of God leadership discovered that Pourmand was in fact still missing.

Since then, Pourmand was presumed to still be under police arrest in the Karaj-Tehran area.

Iran, since 1999, has been designated by the Secretary of State as a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for its particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

The Constitution declares the "official religion of Iran is Islam, and the doctrine followed is that of Ja'fari (Twelver) Shi'ism."

In November, the European Union formally launched a protest with Iranian authorities in light of increasing arrests and harassment of journalists, staff of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and members of religious minorities in Iran.

The complaint, initiated by ambassadors of Netherlands and Great Britain, condemned the unjust and unreasonable persecution of journalists, NGO workers as well as Christians.

In their statement to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, the EU also urged for Pourmand’s release.

Born a Muslim, Pourmand converted to Christianity 25 years ago. “His conversion alone—which a friend said he never kept secret—is ground for the death penalty for, under Islamic law, apostasy is a capital crime,” AsiaNews reported in November.

Sources say Pourmand will face another trial on two separate charges of apostasy and proselytizing.