By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iran’s Islamic leadership has sentenced six Iranian converts to Christianity to long prison terms in recent days, when world attention focused on the country’s presidential elections, Christians confirmed Wednesday, June 18.
Mohabat News, an agency of Christians and activists in Iran, told BosNewsLife that four men, a woman and her teen-aged son were convicted by a Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, in southwestern Iran.
The four men, identified as Mojtaba Seyyed-Alaedin Hossein, Homayoun Shokouhi, Mohammad-Reza Partoei (Koorosh) and Vahid Hakkani were “found guilty of attending a house-church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the regime and disrupting national security,” added Mohabat News, citing a lawyer.
Each was sentenced to 44 months imprisonment; Hossein and Shokouhi will also have to serve an additional eight months behind bars, the activists said.
Fariba Nazemina, the wife of Shokouhi, and her 17-year-old son Nima Shokouhi received both a suspended two-year prison sentence on unspecified charges linked to their Christian activities, Mohabat News reported.
Though the Christians could appeal the sentences within 20 days, there was concern Wednesday, June 18, that family members were unable to meet the prisoners in Shiraz, some 934 kilometers (580 miles) south of Tehran, the capital.
Iranian Christians said “all contacts with these Christian prisoners are lost” and that “they are banned” from contacting their families. “This happened while headlines were dedicated to the Iranian presidential election and less attention was being given to human rights violations in Iran,” commented Mohabat News.
The six were detained in February 2012 after they gathered for worship at a house in Shiraz. Christians said they were taken into custody as part of a wider crackdown on Christian churches during that period.
They were held in jail more than a year before their appearances at the Revolutionary Court, a subsidiary of the country’s judiciary that deals with cases involving national security, according to Iranian Christians familiar with their situation.
The trial has underscored concerns over minority Christians in the strict Islamic nation, including at least an estimated 100,000 evangelicals, many of whom are former Muslims who face prosecution for abandoning Islam.
Last month authorities closed down the country’s largest Pentecostal Church, the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran, after detaining the church’s pastor, Robert Asseriyan.
Christians have also expressed concerns about the health condition of several Christian prisoners, including Vahid Hakkani, who reportedly suffers of internal bleeding in his digestive system. “The reports indicate that the judicial authorities of Fars province have not taken action concerning this issue and as time passes Mr. Hakkani’s situation worsens,” Mohabat News said.
Christians have complained that prisoners in the “Ebrat” ward of Adel-Abad prison in Shiraz are “deprived of their most basic needs which causes physical and mental problems for them.”
Earlier this monrh Christians expressed fresh concerns about Iranian Pastor Behnam Irani, who may face the death penalty for “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, and is reportedly facing serious health problems after two years imprisonment.
A council member of the Church of Iran, one of the country’s largest house church movements, told BosNewsLife that it remains unclear whether the situation would improve for Christians under president-elect Hassan Rohani, though he pledged to work for religious minorities.
As candidate, “Only Hassan Rohani has promised to work for minorities, including Christians,” said the church official, Firouz Khandjani.
However Khandjani cautioned that the former lead nuclear negotiator would “not be allowed to do that without the approval” of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “We have to remain realistic, the president is only one element of the system,” he cautioned.
Analysts have suggested however that Rohani, a moderate, could put pressure on the 34-year clerical rulers in the country to open up for reforms as demanded by millions of voters.
Iran’s religious leadership has defended its policies saying they stand for “Islamic values”.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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