By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- An Iranian Christian convert has been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on what his supporters say are false charges linked to his evangelical church activities, local activist said Tuesday, August 6.
Mohammad-Hadi (Mostafa) Bordbar, a 27-year-old resident of the city of Rasht, was "tried by Judge Pir-Abbasi on the morning of June 9, 2013 in branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran," amid a wider government crackdown on spreading Christianity in Iran said Mohabat News, an agency of Iranian Christian and activists.
Bordbar, who has been detained since December 27, 2012, received a five-year jail sentence for "membership of an anti-security organization" and an additional five years for "gathering with the intent to commit crimes against Iranian national security," according to published court documents.
The court reportedly said that Bordbar was involved in "Christian evangelical activities" and "Zionism" aimed at undermining the Islamic leadership of the country through establishing "evangelical ministries and organizations and holding underground worship meetings."
It cited Mostafa Bordbar's baptism at the home of a pastor, his continued involvement in house churches in the capital Tehran and the areas of Gilan, Karaj and Esfahan as well as related evangelism work as further evidence that he violated the laws of this strict Islamic nation.
He allegedly admitted having distributed 12,000 pieces of Christian literature and dubbing five movies related to Christian evangelism for Christian TV channels.
Iranian officials claimed to have discovered some 6,000 Christian books and compact discs at his home in Rasht. Bordbar confessed that he hid Gospels" for fear of them being burned by Islamic authorities, the court reportedly said.
The court's judgment came after Bordbar and about 50 other Farsi-speaking Christian converts were detained by security agents in a house in northern Tehran during a worship service celebrating the birth of Jesus, Christians said.
While most of them were released, Bordbar remained behind bars. The incident also led to the arrest of an Iranian-Armenian pastor, Vruir Avanessian, Iranian Christians said.
In published remarks, Bordbar's lawyer, Shima Ghousheh, said she would appeal the sentence.
News of the case comes shortly after Hasan Rouhani was sworn in as president in an open session of parliament Sunday, August 6, following a weekend that saw him endorsed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.
While pledging to defend minorities, including apparently Christians, the former lead nuclear negotiator would "not be allowed to do that without the approval" of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei," cautioned Firouz Khandjani, a key official of the evangelical Church or Iran movement.
"We have to remain realistic, the president is only one element of the system," he told BosNewsLife in a recent interview. The Church of Iran, the country's argest house churcn movement, has also expressed concerns over other recent detentions of eight of its members.
Last month, Mohammad Roghangir was sentenced to six years, Massoud Rezaie to five years, Mehdi Ameruni and Bijan Farokhpour Haghighi to three years, Shahin Lahooti and Suroush Saraie to two and half years each, while Eskandar Rezaie and Roxana Forughi were both sentenced to one year in prison, activists told BosNewsLife earlier. .
Iranian Christians are also worried about the jailing of several other believers, including four men, a woman and her teen-aged son who were sentenced in June to long prison terms by a Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, in southwestern Iran.
The four men, identified as Mojtaba Seyyed-Alaedin Hossein, Homayoun Shokouhi, Mohammad-Reza Partoei (Koorosh) and Vahid Hakkani were "found guilty of attending a house-church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the regime and disrupting national security," BosNewsLife reported at the time.
Each was sentenced to 44 months imprisonment; Hossein and Shokouhi will also have to serve an additional eight months behind bars, the activists said.
Fariba Nazemina, the wife of Shokouhi, and her 17-year-old son Nima Shokouhi received both a suspended two-year prison sentence on unspecified charges linked to their Christian activities, Mohabat News explained.
It was not immediately clear what, if anything, Iran's new president will do to challenge the perceived controversial sentences.
Though known as more moderate, there has already been concern among observers about Rouhani's remarks on Israel. Ahead of his inauguration, Iran's new president called Israel an "old wound" that should be removed, while tens of thousands of Iranians marched in support of Muslim claims to Jerusalem, where Christians believe Jesus was buried and rose from the death.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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