Three Christian clergymen, each facing six years in prison in Iran for their faith, attended a second appeal hearing on Tuesday. Reports noted that yet another Christian, a house church leader in Shiraz, was recently arrested.
"The charges faced by Pastors Behnam Irani, Matthias Haghnejad and Deacon Silas Rabbani are clearly unjust, as Mr Farahani has argued in court. We continue to call on the authorities to release these clergymen along with Ebrahim Hosseinzadeh, unconditionally and without delay," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas in a news release.
"Their only 'crime' is to exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief, as guaranteed in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is signatory. We urge the Iranian government to uphold this right for religious minorities in Iran, in line with its obligations under international law and the provisions upholding the rights of religious minorities in its own constitution."
Irani, Haghnejad, and Rabbani were represented by their lawyer Moshkani Farahani in court, who previously had been denied access to his clients. While the Iranian court has accused the men of political crimes, CSW has argued that they are being persecuted for their Christian faith.
Farahani argued that people cannot be sentenced on political charges only because they belong to a religious community.
"It is normal for members of minorities to be in touch with each other; Jews are in touch which others, Zoroastrians are in touch with each other, it is the same for Assyrians, Orthodoxes and Evangelicals. Such connections cannot be perceived as a penal crime," the lawyer told the court.
Another Christian house church leader, 32-year-old Hosseinzadeh, was also arrested last month, CSW learned. The man was apparently apprehended by Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, which took his Christian books and laptop during the raid on his apartment.
Hosseinzadeh is reportedly still detained at the Pelak 100 detention center in Shiraz.
Christians in Iran continue facing arrests and charges for their faith, despite the Islamic country seeking to arrange a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other western nations.
Last month, the deadline for the negotiations was extended until July 1st, 2015, after it became clear that more time will be needed to work out the details. Iran has promised not to use its nuclear capabilities to build weapons, and is hoping that the western states will ease sanctions to allow it to continue its work.
Groups such as the American Center for Law and Justice have argued, however, that Iran cannot be trusted unless it shows evidence it is willing to improve its record on religious minorities, such as releasing Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen serving eight years in prison in Iran for his faith.