By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iran has secretly executed a Jewish-Armenian couple and three other persons, raising concerns about other religious minority prisoners in the strict Islamic nation, Iranian Christians and rights activists confirmed Sunday, March 27.
The independent Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News said Adiva Mirza Soleiman Kalimi, a Jewish Iranian, and her husband Varoujan Petrosian, an Armenian Iranian Christian, were executed in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. One other woman and two men, whose identities were not revealed, were also killed, the agency reported.
The Human Rights Activists News Agency, founded by Iranian activists, said the execution was confirmed by a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Court based inside the Evin prison.
It was not known on what charges the inmates had been sentenced to death. Iranian officials did not provide further details.
Several Iranian Christians and rights activists said they believe the execution happened early Monday, March 14, local time.
It was not know when and if the bodies would be returned to the families of the executed prisoners, amid reports they have been threatened with arrest by agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence.
Relatives of those who died had reportedly asked for the bodies to bury them according to their religious traditions.
The executions were expected to increase concerns about other religious minority prisoners, including five Christians who rights activists said face charges of blasphemy that carry the death penalty.
Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Mohammad Beliad, Parviz Khalaj and Nazly Beliad — all members of the evangelical oriented Church of Iran denomination — are expected to face a blasphemy trial next month, explained advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
The Christians already serve one year imprisonment for “crimes against the Islamic Order”, that fellow believers have linked to their Christian activities.
Several other Christians are also jailed across the country, local residents and rights activists say, as part of a reported government crackdown on Christian converts, who include former Muslims.
In one of the latest cases, three Christians, identified as Saleh Jahangir Zadeh, Hamid Najafi and his wife, Mahzar Najafi, were detained by intelligence officials outside Tehran while traveling to celebrate the Iranian New Year holiday, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency.
It said attempts by families to contact those Christians have remained unsuccessful. Some 48 hours after last week’s arrest there was “still no information regarding their status and location,” the organization added.
CSW added that “The situation for Christians in Iran is worsening, with churches finding it difficult to hold meetings, and many Christians attempting to flee the country.”
The group explained that Christians in Iran are also increasingly concerned for Yousef Nadarkhani, the pastor of a large congregation in the city of Rasht, who was arrested in late 2009.
He remains in prison after having been sentenced to death for the crime of apostasy, “despite there being no articles in the Iranian legal code that refer to such a crime,” CSW observed.
The presiding judge in the Nadarkhani case reportedly based his ruling on texts by Iranian religious scholars. An appeal to the Supreme Court was filed in December, and a hearing is due within two months, according to trial observers.