By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iranian Pastor Behnam Irani, who may face the death penalty for "apostasy", is facing serious health problems after two years imprisonment, a close friend has told BosNewsLife.
"After two years in jail he suffers terrible complications, including intestinal problems and rheumatism," confirmed Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the 'Church of Iran' movement to which the pastor belongs.
"Ofcourse we should not forget that the hygienic situation is terrible and that inmates have not even regular access to a toilet," he explained.
The pastor is held at the Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj city, one of the toughest jails in the country, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the nation's capital Tehran.
Khandjani said the prison was notorious for mistreatment of inmates.
"In Ghazal Hesar prison, strong prisoners used to rape young boys publicly. Dangerous criminals are ruling the prison and nobody is going to stop them," explained Khandjani, who at one point was briefly jailed himself for his Christian activities.
He said there was no evidence the pastor had been sexually abused.
Irani, 42, began a one-year prison term in 2011 but was later told he would also have to serve a five-year, previously suspended, sentence for "crimes against national security".
Christians have linked the sentence to Irani's Christian activities as an effective evangelical pastor of a 300-strong house church congregation of the Church of Iran. "He still needs to serve at least four years," Khandjani explained.
Khandjhani, who has known the pastor for 20 years, said he was concerned that Irani may face the death penalty, leaving behind his Armenian wife and two children. "He has now been recognized as an 'apostate'," the word used for someone who abandons Islam, the official religion of Iran, Khandjani explained.
The church official referred to a recent court verdict suggesting that "he deserves" the death sentence for "apostasy".
"Irani is as far as we know the only pastor currently behind bars who has been implicitly sentenced to death. I fear that prosecutors will pursue this case," he warned.
The case resembled that of fellow Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who served some three years in jail before being acquitted in 2012 on the death-sentence carrying charge of apostasy.
News about the Pastor Irani's deteriorating situation came while Iranian Christians expressed concern Friday, June 7, over the whereabouts of three other recently detained Christian converts.
The converts, identified as Mohammad-Reza Farid, Saeed Safi, and Hamid-Reza Ghadiri, were reportedly detained May 29 during a worship service of a house church in the city of Isfahan, about 340 kilometers (212 miles) south of Tehran.
Mohammad-Reza Farid and Saeed Safi, who are Afghan Christians, were also running Christian website "Nejat-e-Ma" or 'Our Salvation', which was blocked by Iranian cyber-police before their detention, claimed Mohabat News, a news agency of activists and Iranian Christians.
"Investigations of these Christians' families to find their whereabouts have not been successful," Mohabat News said in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife.
Their detention came shortly after authorities closed Iran's largest Persian speaking Pentecostal church and detained one of its leaders during a worship service.
The closure of the Central Assemblies of God church (AoG) in Tehran and the earlier arrest of its Pastor Robert Asserian on May 21 came while Iran prepared for next week's presidential elections.
"It is clear that Iran's leadership wants to eradicate Christianity," Khandjani told BosNewsLife.
Khandjani said he "understood" that world attention has focused on Saeed Abedini, the Iranian-American pastor who received an eight-year prison sentence for his Christian activities, but urged the world not to forget
other Iranian Christians.
"I think that Saeed is held to pressure America to compromise on issues such as Iran's nuclear program and sanctions. However we should not forget the other converts, including Pastor Irani, who faces the possibility to be executed for his faith," by hanging, he stressed.
Despite the reported persecution, there may be as many as 100,000 evangelical Christians, according to church groups, with some giving higher estimates.
Iran has denied wrongdoing saying it defends Islamic values.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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