Iran Christians Behind Bars This Easter Amid New Concern

By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos

TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iranian Christians have expressed concern about detained Christians who spent Easter behind bars amid including two Christian converts who were tried on charge of organizing house churches after eight months of uncertainty.

Mohabat News, a news agency of Iranian Christians and activists, said Amin Afshar Naderi and Hadi Askari, who have been held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, were told that their cases were transferred to a branch of the Revolutionary Court. "The verdict in this case will be communicated in the coming days, their other court hearing in connection with another case that was formed in 2014, will be held in May this year," Mohabat News told BosNewsLife.

The two Christian converts, who were involved in house churches, spent several months in prison but despite several interrogation "no charges had been brought against them", Iranian Christians said.

The two men were reportedly detained in August last year along with fellow believers Amir Saman Dashti, Mohammad Dehnavi
and Bat Ramyyl Tamraz during at a picnic in Iran's Firuzkuh area.

"In October and November Ramiel, Mohammad and Amir were able to get conditional release by submitting bail payments. Hadi and Amin were unable to raise the bail demanded for their release and went on hunger strike to demand that their cases be redressed,"
confirmed Middle East Concern, an advocacy group following the case.

RECEIVING PROMISE

"They received a promise from the attorney general's office that their case would be seen to promptly and ended their hunger strike. Hadi has reportedly been suffering a kidney infection and has not received medical attention," MEC told BosNewsLife in a statement.

MEC cited Christians as urging prayers for the detained believers who have been charged with "acting against national
security" and "organising and creating house churches".

Ramiel Bet Tamraz faces additional charges of propagating the teaching of his father Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, the group said. "It is expected they will have a final hearing in the coming weeks and a verdict will be delivered."

While their cases were underway, Christians also expressed concern about detained Chrisian Ebrahim Firouzi who mother has undergone surgery for cancer and was said to be weak and unable to care for herself. She is having chemotherapy, but Mohabat News said Ebrahim has not been given leave to visit her.

Ebrahim was detained in August 2013 on charges linked to his Christian activities. He was due for release on January 13, 2015 but kept in detention and later sentenced to five years in prison, BosNewsLife learned.

APPEAL HEARING

Last year he was summoned to attend an appeal hearing but refused to go, saying it was sufficient for his lawyer to attend, according to trial observers. He was allegedly beaten by guards and taken to court but one of the judges was reportedly absent and the hearing was
postponed.

In December last year his appeal was heard in court and a decision was recently given upholding his sentence.

MEC said Iranian Christians requested prayer that "Ebrahim will be allowed to visit his mother and that he will be released, despite his sentence being upheld" and that "the Lord will heal his mother and encourage the family."

Other Christians also face charges, including those detained in the coastal city of Rasht in last year. Authorities in Rasht have reportedly referred charges security charges to Tehran, resulting in further delay in this case.

The Christians, identified as Yaser Mosibzadeh, Saheb Fadayee and Mohammad Reza Omidi were detained in Rasht on May 13, 2016
with their pastor Yousef Nadarkhani as they were celebrating communion, BosNewsLife reported earlier.

NATIONAL SECURITY

Though charged with "acting against national security" and having had two hearings, a verdict is still pending. Yaser Mosibzadeh, Saheb Fadayee and Mohammad Reza Omidi were also charged with consumption of alcohol for drinking wine at communion and sentenced in September last year to 80 lashes.

That sentence was appealed in February with their lawyer reportedly saying that "as converts to Christianity, it is not illegal for them to drink wine because, though alcohol is prohibited for Muslims in Iran, it is permitted for Christians." The judge has yet to give a decision.

MEC cited Iranian Christians as asking their supporters to pray that "the judge will reject the charges against the Christians arrested
in Firuzkuh, and will acquit them" and that "the case against the Christians in Rasht will be rejected, and the charges of acting against national security and drinking wine at communion will be dropped."

The reported crackdown on minority Christians in strictly Islamic Iran comes amid concerns among authorities about the spread of
Christianity among Muslims in the country. Officially Christians comprise less than 0.3 percent of Iran's population of nearly 83
million, but Iranian church leaders say that number is rapidly increasing.

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