By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- There was mounting concern Sunday, August 18, over the health situation of an Iranian-born American pastor and another evangelical leader who were among those sentenced to long prison terms in Tehran on charges that friends link to their Christian faith.
The Iranian family of detained American Pastor Saeed Abedini said in a statement that they were able to visit him in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison where thet learned he has internal injuries that are causing him increased pain.
Some Christians said Pastor Saeed has been suffering from internal bleeding – as a result of intense beatings he sustained in prison for his faith in Christ.
In January, the 33-year-old married father of two was sentenced by a Tehran court to eight years imprisonment for “threatening the national security of Iran” through his leadership in Christian house churches.
He has also been accused of spying for the U.S. government and brainwashing young Iranian Muslims to convert to “Zionist Christianity.”
Abedini, who normally lives in Boise, Idaho, has denied the charges saying he only returned to his native country last year to help set-up an orphanage. has denied the charges,
He renounced Islam and converted to Christianity in 2009 and became an American citizen by marriage a year later.
News also emerged Sunday, August 18, that Pastor Farshid Fathi Malayeri, another evangelical leader who is serving a six year term in Evin prison, has complained about "severe mental torture."
Interrogators and prison guards allegedly lied to him, saying they had detained his wife and that his father had a heart attack.
The pastor was detained in December 2010 and was eventually sentenced on charges of being the "chief director of a foreign organization in Iran" and "raising funds for the organization".
He was also charged with possessing "religious propaganda", including printing Bibles in the Farsi language as well as possessing and distributing Bibles and other Christian literature, according to trial observers.
In a published letter, smuggled out of prison, the pastor said he was "told falsely" that his wife "had been arrested" and that he needed to give his "children's custody to someone for a temporary period of time."
"I was also informed falsely that my dad had a heart attack and was hospitalized. Then they wouldn't give me any follow up news on whether he was dead or alive, while it was all intended to put me under mental pressure," the pastor wrote.
In a previous letter Fathi wrote to his father: "Often I have been sorrowful because of certain things, but I have never been a slave of sadness. Often I have been insulted, humiliated and accused, but I have never doubted my identity in Christ. Some have deserted me, some have fled from me, of course in no way do I pass judgment on them. My Lord has never left me."
Mohabat News, a news agency of Christian activists, said the messages "only described a small fraction of what Mr. Fathi has gone through in the infamous Evin prison."
And, "Although Fathi has served almost three years of his sentence in ward 350, with months in solitary confinement, he has never been granted a temporary leave permit," the agency added.
His wife and two children, Rossana and Bardia, were reportedly forced to leave Iran due to pressures from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence.
They fled to Turkey in August 2011, where they applied for refugee status in the Canadian Embassy. They left Turkey for Canada in February 2013 and settled there, according to Christian familiar with the case.
Mehdi Khazali, a detained Iranian government critic and son of a right-wing Islamic cleric and former member of the influencial Council of Guardians, praised Farshid who was his cellmate last year.
"Farshid was a polite young man with a warm smile always on his face," Mohabat News quoted him as saying.
"All prisoners in ward 350 remember nothing but kindness from him. He had an exemplary behavior. We never saw him lose his temper. He was a kind person."
Concerns over the health of prisoners comes amid a wider reported crackdown on devoted Christians in Iran.
Earlier this month, news emerged that Iranian Christian convert Mohammad-Hadi (Mostafa) Bordbar was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on what his supporters say are false charges linked to his evangelical
Additionally, Iranian authorities allegedly detained and mistreated three Christian converts amid a wider crackdown on what the country's Islamic leadership calls "evangelical and extremist" Christians.
Farshid Modares-Aval, Mohammad-Reza Pirri, and Yashar Farzin-No, were reportedly captured July 20 in raids by security authorities in the northern city of Tabriz.
The Church of Iran, the country's largest house church 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.
Some Christian groups have expressed hope that the situation will eventually improve under Iranian Christian prisoners under the new president Hasan Rouhani.
He 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.
Yet, 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.
Despite the reported crackdown, church sources say the number of Christians in Iran has grown from 500 known believers in 1979 to at least 100,000 devoted believers today.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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