Five Christians Arrested at Prayer Service Facing Trial With Political Charges

Recent reports indicate that five Christian members of the Church of Iran will soon be going on trial for their religion, facing multiple charges which include threatening national security and evangelism.

The five imprisoned men, Mohammad Roghangir, Surush Saraie, Eskandar Rezaie, Shahin Lahooti and Massoud Rezaie have been detained since October 2012, and are facing charges of disturbing public order, evangelizing, action against national security and an internet activity against the system, according to religious persecution watchdog group Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The trial for the five men will begin at the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, located in the Fars Province, on March 10.

As Andrew Johnston, Christian Solidarity Worldwide's advocacy director said in a recent statement, the charges of these five men have been cloaked in political terms, although it is evident that they are being persecuted for their Christian faith.

"Once again Iranian Christians face charges couched in political terms that in reality stem from their choice of faith and desire to exercise the right to worship in community with others, as guaranteed in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party," Johnston said in a statement emailed to The Christian Post.

Johnston went on to assert that the five men soon to be facing trial have been accused of subversive internet activity, although no evidence validates that charge because they were arrested at a prayer gathering.

The five men facing trial were arrested, along with two other Christians, in October 2012 in an authority-implemented prayer service raid in Shiraz, in the country's Fars province.

At the time, Christian Solidarity Worldwide pointed to an increased crackdown on Christians in the country on behalf of government authorities.

"There appears to be an increasing tendency by the Iranian authorities to characterize legitimate religious activities as crimes against the state," CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said at the time, as previously reported by The Christian Post.

"In reality, people are being harassed merely on account of their faith," Thomas added.

As CSW points out, there also exists another group of four Christians, who were arrested in February 2012 for disturbing national security. They are currently facing trial in the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz.

These four Christians reportedly arrived at their December court hearing wearing shackles, which is a violation of Iranian law.

"Bearing in mind that the shackling of prisoners is illegal under Iranian law, and that Iran is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, CSW urges the Iranian authorities to uphold the rule of law and to respect the right to freedom of religion or belief in its entirety, including the right of all of its citizens to manifest their belief in community with others," Johnston said in reference to these other four prisoners currently facing trial.

Iran has long been criticized by international human rights organizations for blatantly violating the rights of its citizens, especially when it comes to religious practices.

Despite the government's repeated attempt to stifle the spread of Christianity in the nation, the religion has reportedly been growing thanks to the expansion of underground house churches.

Last year, persecution watchdog Open Doors USA said that the number of Muslims converting to Christianity in the nation has proven to be "explosive."

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