By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Family members of jailed Iranian Pastor Behnam Irani fear he may die behind bars amid mounting concerns about his rapidly deteriorating health and prison mistreatment, an official assisting him with advocacy told BosNewsLife Wednesday, April 25.
Irani, who suffers of several ailments including an intestinal disorder, is "frequently beaten by prisoners under the watchful eye of prison officials," said Jason DeMars of advocacy group Present Truth Ministry.
"Sources close to the family are concerned that he will die before the end of his five-year prison sentence," DeMars explained. Besides known health issues, he is also "having trouble with his eyesight and his foot," he added, suggesting the situation may be even more serious than previously thought.
Irani, who is in his 40s and married with two children, has been behind bars in a prison of Karaj city where he led a congregation of the Church of Iran house church movement.
He has been held on charges of "crimes against the Islamic state" apparently linked to his involvement in the unauthorized house church.
DETAINED DURING WORSHIP
Christians said he was detained in April 2010 when security forces raided Irani’s house in Karaj during a worship service. Iranian Christians said at the time that security forces beat Irani and confiscated Bibles and other Christian literature and DVDs.
His colleague, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, is facing the death penalty on charges of "apostasy" or abandoning Islam.
However, "Our sources confirm he is alive and is doing well by the grace of God. We are still waiting for a written verdict to be delivered regarding his September 2011 retrial," about the death sentencing, said DeMars.
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has not responded to a local court request for his legal opinion.
De Mars cautioned that "It is unlikely he will" because "if he does, it will create a legal precedent, and he neither wants to compromise on core Islamic penal code nor does he want to face the certain international uproar and loss of face that comes with executing a Christian."
IRAN UNDER PRESSURE
The European Union and United States have urged Iran to release the Church of Iran pastor.
DeMars added that another 12 active Christians, who faced a trial during Easter, are still awaiting a verdict. "We anticipate that it will be delivered shortly;
however, based on past precedent, there could be a significant delay," he said.
Those awaiting a verdict have been identified as Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and his wife Anahita Khadeimi, Mahmoud Khosh-Hal and his wife Hava Saadetmend, Amir Goldoust, Mina Goldoust, Zhaina Bahremand, Fatemah Modir-Nouri, Mehrdad Habibzade, Milad Radef, Behzad Taalipasand and Amin Pishkar.
Rights activists have linked the trial on charges of "crimes against the order" to their Christian activities at a time when Iranian authorities are cracking down on house churches which are reportedly attended by many former Muslims.
Iranian officials have denied wrongdoing and say those prosecuted are either criminals or otherwise violated the laws of this Islamic nation.