Iran Christians Appeal Against Lashes For Drinking Wine; Prayers Urged

By BosNewsLife Middle East Service

TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iranian Christians have urged prayers for three Christian converts in the coastal city of Rasht who have appealed against a sentence of 80 lashes for drinking wine at a communion service and two fellow believers in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison who are threatening to go on hunger strike, well-informed Christians told BosNewsLife.

Yaser Mosibzadeh, Saheb Fadayee and Mohammad Reza Omidi were detained on in May last year along with their pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, as they were celebrating communion. "They have all been charged with acting against national security and have had two hearings, but a verdict is still pending," said Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) in a statement to BosNewsLife.

"Yaser, Saheb and Mohammad Reza were also charged with consumption of alcohol for drinking wine at communion and sentenced on September 10 to receive 80 lashes each," MEC said.

Last week the lawyer representing the three men reportedly attended an appeal hearing on behalf of his clients where he said that as converts to Christianity it "is not illegal for them" to drink wine. While alcohol is prohibited for Muslims in Iran, it is permitted for Christians and other recognized minorities.

Christians said the judge pledged to deliver a verdict after 20 days. "Friends of the three men request prayer that the judge will overturn the sentence," MEC added. Iranian security forces have reportedly warned the men they will be detained if they continue to organize Christian meetings or evangelize.

MORE CONCERNS

MEC said it was also concerned about the plight of Christians Amin Nader Afshar and Hadi Askary who were detained in August last year during a Christian picnic gathering in Firuzkuh along with Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Mohammad Dehnavy and Amir Sina Dashti.

"They were detained in Ward 4 of Evin Prison [in] Tehran. No charges have been brought against the men despite weeks of interrogation."

It added that in "October and November Ramiel, Mohammad and Amir were able to get conditional release by submitting substantial bail payments" but noted that "Hadi and Amin were unable to raise the amount of bail demanded for their release", some $31,000. "and want a hearing as soon as possible."

MEC said that "Hadi has been suffering from a kidney infection and has not received any medical attention."

Last week the two Christian men reportedly announced that they would go on hunger strike to
demand adequate medical care and an end to the delays in their case. "After seven days without food, Amin fell very ill as his blood pressure dropped substantially. He was refused medical attention," MEC said.

PRAYERS URGED

In published remarks released by MEC Iranian Christians urged believers around the world to pray that "the judge will overturn the sentence of 80 lashes against Yaser, Saheb and Mohammed Reza" and that "the four men in Rasht will be acquitted of the charges of acting against national security."

In addition they are praying that security forces of what is known as the Revolutionary Guard
"will stop threatening Christian converts and recognize their right to freedom of religion" and that "Hadi will receive treatment for his kidney infection and will be restored to health."

Iranian Christians also hope that the case against those detained at the Firuzkuh picnic will be heard soon and that the two still detained men will be released and that the released Christians will receive back their bail monies.

They said they also pray that "all officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him."

Iranian authorities have expressed concern about the spread of Christianity in the strict Islamic nation.  "In 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today the most conservative estimate is that there are at least 360,000 believers in the nation," said mission group Elam Ministries, which was founded by Iranian church leaders.

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