By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Several Christians in Iran prepared Wednesday, December 22, to spend Christmas behind bars, including at least two Iranian pastors who face the death penalty on charges of ‘apostasy’, or abandoning Islam.
Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, from Rasht in Northern Iran, is currently being held in Lakan prison after he was detained October 13 last year and charged with apostasy in part because he expressed concerns that Christian children were forced to receive Muslim education.
The education contravenes the Iranian constitution, which permits parents to raise children in their own faith, and violates international statutes to which Iran is party, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), said Christian Solidarity World (CSW), one of several advocacy groups supporting his case.
He was reportedly tried and informed orally in late September that he was to receive the death penalty, although the written sentence was not issued until November 13, BosNewsLife established.
Pastor Nadarkhani’s lawyers filed an appeal on December 5, but a date for the hearing has yet to be announced, according to trial observers.
In another case, Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, a second generation Christian from Tehran and chairman of the Pastoral Council of the Church of Iran, has been detained in a high security prison in Shiraz since June this year.
Khanjani was initially arrested in January 2010 after being summoned to Shiraz to offer an explanation for church activities, and was detained along with two other Christians, CSW said. He was released on bail on 17 March, but was once more summoned to Shiraz on 16 June to “present his defense”, re-arrested and transferred to the infamous “Plate 100 Prison”.
“Pastor Khanjani has now been charged with apostasy, blasphemy, and contact with the enemy. The possible penalty is a death sentence. He too is held incommunicado, and despite the gravity of the charges, he has only been given access to his attorney once in the period between his arrest and late November,” CSW added.
Iranian Christians said the majority of his imprisonment Pastor Khandjani has been kept in solitary confinement, there were reports that his health is suffering due to “extremely unhygienic conditions and deliberate mistreatment.”
Their cases come amid reports that religious minorities in the country are experiencing an increase in persecution, including detention and imprisonment.
CSW cited its sources as reporting that Christian prisoners are subjected to eight hours of interrogation a day and some are kept in cramped rooms where they are unable to sleep. “We are deeply concerned for the welfare of Pastors Nadarkhani and Khanjani, who are detained in appalling conditions and cannot be contacted,” said CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston.
“They are being held solely for exercising their right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief,” he said.
Several Western advocacy groups and politicians have urged the Iranian government to release the Christians.