By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- A Christian man has begun a hunger strike in an Iranian prison to protest the rejection of his conditional release appeal by the Revolutionary Court, despite concerns over his health, Iranian Christians told BosNewsLife Sunday, March 30.
Vahid Hakkani is held in Abel-Abad prison in the southwestern Shiraz city, some 934 kilometers (580 miles) outside the capital Tehran, after being found guilty of "attending a house-church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign [Christian] ministries" as well as "propaganda" against Iran's leadership and "disrupting national security," trial observers said earlier.
Hakkani, who was sentenced in June last year to 44 months imprisonment along with three other Iranian "house church" Christians, began his hunger strike on March 20, said the well-informed Mohabat News agency of local Iranian activists and Christians.
"He has entered the second week of his hunger strike, while his health is deteriorating every day...He is suffering from a digestive system problems," the agency said.
His family recently transferred him to Faghihi hospital in Shiraz where he underwent surgery,
after they reportedly posted bail.
However relatives now fear that "prison authorities will transfer him to solitary confinement because
he refuses to stop his hunger strike," Christians said.
Besides Hakkani, Christian men Homayoun Shokouhi, Mojtaba Seyyed-Ala'din Hossein, and Mohammad-Reza Partoei (Kourosh), are also being held at the 'Ebrat', or 'Edification', ward of Adel-Abad prison for their involvement in house churches and evangelism.
Efforts by their families to receive "a conditional release" were rejected, although Iranian laws
allow for that option if prisoners have served half of their sentences, observers said.
Friends are concerned about their prison circumstances. The "Ebrat" ward of Adel-Abad prison
was initially dedicated o prisoners of conscience, but now holds convicts of burglary, murder, and fraud, according to Christians familiar with their situation.
Iranian Christians say Iran's recently elected President Hassan Rouhani failed to improve religious rights, despite earlier pledges to protect non-Islamic minorities.
Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, recently said "at least 49 Christians" remained detained "in Islamic Republic of Iran as at January 2014," and hundreds of other followers of minority faiths.
Among non-Christians detained are at least 136 Baha'is, 90 Sunni Muslims, 19 Dervishes, and two Zoroastrians, according to the U.N. report released in March.
Strictly Islamic-ruled Iran has at least 100,000 evangelical Christians who are forced to meet
in underground "house churches" organized in homes of believers, according to missionaries.
They are not allowed to openly worship in official church buildings.