By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Rights activists condemned on Tuesday, July 3, an Iranian court's ruling upholding the six-year prison sentence for evangelical pastor Farshid Fathi Malayeri on charges that critics linked to his Christian activities.
Mission group Elam Ministries said an appeals court convicted him last week for allegedly "being the chief agent of foreign organizations in Iran and of administrating funds for foreign organizations."
He was already sentenced on these charges by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, where the pastor will serve the remaining time of his six-year prison term.
"As in recent cases involving Christians, the charges against the pastor were couched in political language when in reality he was arrested merely on account of his faith," said Andrew Johnston, Advocacy Director at rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
He will serve the remainder of his sentence in section 350 of Evin Prison, according to trial observers.
Pastor Fathi Malayeri was detained for 14 months and had his initial trial postponed several times by judicial authorities before his first hearing earlier this year, Johnston recalled.
The church leader's, "illegal detention...prior to his case coming to trial, his lengthy stay in solitary confinement, and the lack of due process in his case are wholly illegal and unacceptable," he told BosNewsLife in a statement.
Iranian security forces initially detained Pastor Fathi Malayeri on December 26, 2010, during raids that targeted a large number several Christians and house church members, CSW said.
Many were later released after making "exorbitant" bail payments, but Pastor Fathi Malayeri remained in prison, where he was held in solitary confinement for over 100 days, explained Christians familiar with the case.
"Despite the fact that the pastor’s family relinquished the title deeds of their home as bail, he was not released. On one occasion he was told to pack his belongings and was led out to the prison gate, before suddenly being returned to his cell," CSW said.
Elam Ministries, which was set up by Iranian church leaders, and CSW have expressed concerns about trial procedures, amid reports that the pastor's lawyer was deprived full access to his client’s case until a few days prior to the initial court hearing.
Rights activists and church groups say the trial is part of a growing crackdown on devoted Christians, including former Muslims, in this strict Islamic nation.
Iranian authorities have denied wrongdoing.
However, "The ongoing harassment and imprisonment of Christians, Baha’is and other minorities by the regime contravenes international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of religion," Johnston said.
"We urge the Iranian authorities to follow due process and ensure respect for the right to freedom of religion."
He also said that his group demands the "immediate and unconditional release of Pastor Fathi Malayeri" as well as other Christians including Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faces the death penalty on charges of "apostasy" or abandoning Islam.