The lawyer representing two Christian pastors and a deacon facing six years in prison in Iran for their faith has reportedly been denied access to his clients ahead of an appeal hearing.
"It is unacceptable that these men have been denied access to their legal counsel ahead of the court hearing. We remain concerned about the lack of due process in their case and the exceptional nature of their punishment. They have committed no crime and are effectively being punished for their faith," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas on Monday.
"We are deeply concerned for their wellbeing and, in particular, for pastor Irani's health, which has deteriorated significantly during his unjust detention. We urge the Iranian authorities to release these men and the many others who are being held in contravention of the international covenants guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief to which Iran is party," Thomas added.
The lawyer, Vahid Moshkani Farahani, has been seeking to meet with pastor Behnam Irani, pastor Matthias Haghnejad and deacon Silas Rabbani ahead of the trial, but has been denied by Iranian authorities several times.
The Christians all received six-year sentences in October, and are facing an appeal at the Sixth Branch of Karaj Revolutionary Court.
Farahani has also expressed concerns for the welfare of Irani, who has complained of several medical issues while in prison, but has not received the needed medical care.
In an earlier report, the persecution watchdog group noted that the Christians are set to serve out their sentences in isolated prisons, which would force their families to travel great distances to visit them.
"We are deeply concerned by the six-year sentences given to pastors [Benham] Irani and [Matthias] Haghnejad and deacon Silas Rabbani, and the fact that they will serve these sentences so far from their families and home towns," CSW Chief Operating Officer Andy Dipper said in October.
"We are particularly appalled by the extra six years given to pastor Irani, who has already endured ill-treatment whilst in prison and now faces nearly a decade in prison on trumped-up charges. We urge the Iranian government to release, without delay, every person who is imprisoned for their faith. Their incarceration contravenes international covenants guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief, to which Iran is party."
Iran's treatment of religious minorities continues to be heavily scrutinized by watchdog groups, as the central government engages in important negotiations with several western nations over a deal concerning its nuclear capabilities.
Another Christian pastor, American citizen Saeed Abedini, is serving an eight-year sentence in Iran, and has been the subject of an international campaign calling for his release.
U.S.-based groups, such as the American Center for Law and Justice, have urged President Barack Obama's administration to push Iran to release Abedini in the wake of the negotiations.