(ADDS MORE COMMENTS FROM CHURCH OF IRAN OFFICIAL)
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)- An Iranian Islamic court has sentenced three leaders of the country's largest evangelical house church movement to six years imprisonment each on charges linked to their Christian activities, BosNewsLife learned Monday, October 20.
Pastor Behnam Irani, Pastor Matthias Haghnejad, and Deacon Silas Rabbani of the Church of Iran were sentenced Sunday, October 19, for "acting against national security" and forming "a group to overthrow the government", a well-informed church official told BosNewsLife.
"They received this verdict under Section 498 of the Islamic Penal Code," added Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the Church of Iran. The verdict was issued by Judge Asel Al-Hosseyn of what is known as '1st Branch of the Revolutionary Tribunal' in Karaj city, he confirmed.
It meant many more years behind bars for Pastor Irani as he already serves a six-year sentence for his faith, Khandjani said. "He will have to serve 12 years in jail."
Irani and the two other Christians, who are being held separately in Ghezal Hesar Prison, initially faced a possible death sentence for 'Mofsed-e-filarz' ('spreading corruption on earth') and Moharebeh ('warring against Allah'), but those charges were apparently dropped.
"It is possible that they just wanted to threaten with the death sentence to make a long-term prison term more acceptable to the international public," Khandjani noticed. "However for Irani six more years in prison mean a death sentence as he is very ill," he warned.
Sunday's ruling came amid what church groups say is mounting pressure on devoted Christians in Iran. Officials have expressed concern about a growing number of Muslims embracing the Christian faith, with numbers ranging from 100,000 to several times that figure.
The Church of Iran is among the groups singled out for attacks, according to Christians familiar with the situation. Several leaders of the movement and denomination have been forced to flee the country. Those staying behind can face prosecution.
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(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since May 2004).
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