By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iranian Christians and rights activists say a jailed Iranian pastor is facing serious health problems and may not survive the remaining five years of his prison term on “trumped-up charges” of “crimes against national security”.
Pastor Behnam Irani, 41, reportedly lost about five kilograms as he fights a blood infection.Iranian Christians have told BosNewsLife that he was previously beaten by fellow inmates and guards of the Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj city, one of the toughest jails in the country, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the nation’s capital Tehran.
Rights activists with close knowledge about the pastor’s situation said he was in “Ward 2 of Salon 7” where each of the 15 square-meter cells hold up to 40 prisoners. “There are only six bathrooms for 600 inmates,” added advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Earlier this month, “the heating system broke [and] there is no hot water for showers and at night it’s just a few degrees above freezing,” CSW said in comments seen by BosNewsLife Friday, November 30.
Amid the difficulties, the pastor has been denied adequate medical treatment “for his deteriorating health” and for injuries sustained from “frequent and brutal beatings by prison guards and other inmates” since his imprisonment in May last year, CSW and other sources said.
Acute stomach ulcers and colon complications have reportedly caused severe bleeding, and he is now barely able to walk.
“If he does not get the medical treatment he needs soon, he may die in prison,” CSW warned.
Iranian officials are not known to have commented on the latest developments, but in the past they defended the detention of Christians for allegedly violating laws of the strict Islamic nation.
Irani 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”.
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.
Christians have linked the sentence to Irani’s Christian activities as an effective evangelical pastor of a 300-strong house church congregation.
Hundreds of other evangelical Christians have also been detained, though many were later released after promising not to return to their churches or groups, Khandjani told BosNewsLife.
Though at least dozens of Christians remain detained throughout the country, house churches continue to grow. There may be at least 100,000 devoted Christians in the strict Islamic nation, according to church groups, with some giving higher estimates.
“The international community must take a stand” as “Iran’s regime is increasingly intolerant of religious minorities,” commented CSW.
“It is more and more vital for the international community to take action to persuade the Iranian regime to end the mistreatment of all prisoners of conscience.”
The group said it has been asking supporters to send messages to the Iranian government “demanding urgent medical treatment for Pastor Irani and to demand his release from unjust imprisonment.”