By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Jailed Iranian pastor Behnam Irani, who potentially faces the death penalty for “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, suffers of “various medical problems” in part because of prison mistreatment, an official assisting him with advocacy told BosNewsLife Friday, September 28.
Pastor Irani’s “eyesight is dimming and he has not been given access to a doctor to get prescription lenses,” said Jason DeMars, director of the Present Truth Ministries advocacy group.
His eyesight problems came after he was beaten by fellow inmates in the Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj city, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the nation’s capital Tehran, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Prison guards allegedly watched the beatings but refused to intervene. There was no official comment to the allegations.
DeMars also said that the pastor has “a bleeding ulcer in his intestines” which “has caused him to have bloody stool, vomiting blood, resulting in unconsciousness at one point.”
Additionally, he is “limping badly” as so far authorities refused to allow replacement of metal placed in his knee following an earlier incident, DeMars added.
“Sometimes he is feeling okay and other times he is feeling very sick, and he is still quite pale whether he’s feeling good or not,” he said.
Irani, who is in his 40s, began a one-year prison term in 2011 but was later told he would also have to serve a five-year, previously suspended, sentence for “crimes against national security”.
In Iran’s secretive judicial system, it is often unclear what exact steps authorities will undertake against groups or individuals deemed as dangerous to society.
Christians have linked the sentence to his Christian activities as an effective evangelical pastor of a 300-strong house church congregation.
There is also concern about a court verdict suggesting prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for “apostasy”, said Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the ‘Church of Iran’ movement to which the pastor belongs.
A published written appeals court verdict from 2008 said execution was needed “Considering the explicit confessions of…individual [Irani] during the trial, that his father and mother were Muslims and he, himself, also opted for Islam when he reached maturity, and then left the holy religion of Islam and became a Christian.”
He, “also deceived a group of people into leaving Islam. Therefore as mentioned in … [Islamic religious text] … the abovementioned individual is definitely an innate apostate, and the sentence for innate apostasy is death,” the court stressed in a statement.
Even without an official death sentence, Iranian officials “used to repeat to him that he is not going to leave the prison alive,” Khandjani told BosNewsLife in a recent interview.
Pastor Irani is originally from Gilan province, the same area where Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was held on apostasy charges before being released last month amid international pressure.
Irani eventually moved to the capital Tehran and to nearby Karaj to continue his church work there.
Despite reported persecution, there may be at least 100,000 devoted Christians in the strict Islamic nation, according to church groups, with some giving higher estimates.