By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Christians in Iran have urged prayers after three fellow believers from a Muslim background were sentenced to 80 lashes each for drinking wine in a communion service, while in another case three of five men detained during a Christian picnic were released.
Yaser Mosibzadeh, Saheb Fadayee and Mohammed Reza Omidi, also known as Youhan, were detained at a house church gathering in Rasht city in May
on charges that included "action against national security", several Christians told BosNewsLife.
They were later told that they would also face 80 lashes each for the consumption of alcohol as they were drinking wine during a communion service. Mohammed Reza had already been one of a group of four believers from Muslim backgrounds who received lashes on similar charges in 2012,
said Middle East Concern (MEC) an advocacy group closely following the case.
"Drinking alcohol is not illegal for Christians, but under applicable Islamic law it is prohibited for Muslims. The charges brought against Christian converts 'reflect the state view that a Muslim cannot change his or her religion," MEC told BosNewsLife.
The three Christians, who appeared in court last month but just received the verdict, said they would appeal the sentence, BosNewsLife learned.
RELEASED ON BAIL
They were released on bail after weeks in detention. Their pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and his wife Fatemeh, also known as Tina Pasandideh were briefly detained at the same time. He and the three other Christian men sentenced over the alcohol consumption are facing separate security charges during a hearing the Revolutionary Court in Rasht on Saturday, October 15, MEC said.
In published remarks Iranian Christians said that they request prayer that the appeal against the lashing sentence "will be successful and that the Christian faith of the three men will be recognized by the court and they will be acquitted of these charges that apply to Muslims."
They also urged prayers that "the three men, as well as Yousef Nadarkhani, will be acquitted of the charges of acting against national security" and that "God will give His peace to the men and their families, and that they will not be anxious." Christians said they hope "officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him."
Separately Christians also asked prayers as three of the five Iranian Christians detained by security forces during a trip to the Alborz Mountains north-east of Tehran in August have been released on bail, though two are still being detained.
Ramil Bet-Tamraz, Mohammad Dehnavi and Amin Afshar Naderi were released after posting bail of around US$33,000 each, MEC said. MEC added that they still haven't been told what charges they face, although their interrogation related to the activity of Ramil's father, Victor,
a pastor who is still expecting a summons to court over his arrest and that of Nadari in 2014.
Victor Bet-Tamraz led the Tehran Pentecostal Assyrian Church before it was shut down by Iran's Ministry of Interior in March 2009. He and Naderi – a convert to Christianity – were detained alongside another Christian convert while celebrating Christmas at the pastor’s house, Christians said.
All three were charged with conducting "illegal evangelism" and kept mostly in solitary confinement in Tehran's notorious Evin prison,
before being released on bail in February and March 2015.
"The families and friends of these five men request our prayers that those still detained will know the presence, peace and provision of
Jesus, and that they will also be released soon" and that "no charges will be brought against the five men," said MEC, which is in contact with local Christians.
Christians also asked prayers that "those released will have joyful reunions with family and friends, and they will quickly recover from their time of imprisonment."
Iran's government has come under international pressure to defend the rights of Christians and other minorities in the strict Islamic nation.