By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Prominent Iranian house church pastor Behnam Irani is still beaten in his prison but less frequently, an official assisting him with advocacy said late Monday, May 14, just weeks after his family expressed concerns he may die.
"We have learned that the beatings are still happening, however they no longer happen on a daily basis, but periodically," Jason DeMars, director of the Present Truth Ministries rights group told BosNewsLife.
He said however that Behnam has had intestinal bleeding, or bloody stool, for roughly six months among other ailments. "He has requested to visit the hospital or a doctor and they have denied his requests," DeMars said, adding that his group has urged supporters to "Please pray for his healing and deliverance from the bleeding."
Yet, "Despite his difficult circumstances, his faith remains strong and he is joyful," added DeMars.
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.
"CRIMES AGAINST STATE"
He has been held on charges of "crimes against the Islamic state" apparently linked to his involvement in the unauthorized house church.
Christians said he was detained in April 2010 when security forces raided Irani’s house in Karaj during a worship service.
Iranian Christians explained at the time that security forces beat Irani and confiscated Bibles and other Christian literature and DVDs, BosNewsLife news agency reported earlier.
His colleague, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, is facing the death penalty on charges of "apostasy" or abandoning Islam.
However Nadarkhani, who is held in Lakan Prison in his home town of Rasht said in a letter attributed to him last week that he remains hopeful.
“I have surrendered myself to God's will...[and I] consider it as the day of exam and trial of my faith...[so that I may] prove my loyalty and sincerity to God.” At the end of his letter he requests, “...all the beloved ones to pray for me,” he wrote.
Iranian officials have denied wrongdoing and say those prosecuted are either criminals or otherwise violated the laws of this Islamic nation.
DeMars said he also remains concerned about two other devoted Christians identified as Alireza Seyyedian or Petros Fouroton. "They remain imprisoned in [the cities of] Tehran and Shiraz, respectively. He said his group urged Christians to "Pray for their endurance and comfort in Christ as they stand this trial in prison."
The incidents are part of a wider crackdown on churches, Christian leaders say.
Leaders of the Assemblies of God’s (AOG) Central Church of Iran's capital Tehran, for instance, told their congregation last week Sunday, May 6, that Iranian authorities demand a list of names and identification numbers of church members, viewed as a major risk to converts from Islam.
Church leaders have reportedly members to volunteer their information, though Christians say doing so "almost feels suicidal" in a nation where Christians such as Pastor Nadarkhani face execution.
The AOG church holds two Sunday services, both of which are conducted in the Farsi language. It is the only church remaining in Tehran that offers Farsi-language worship on Sundays, after others were forced to halt services, Christians said.