By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– A frail Iranian pastor has been sentenced to 3.5 years imprisonment for “anti-government activities” and “promoting ideas contrary to the sanctity of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” trial observers confirmed Thursday, December 12.
Vruir Avanessian of the Assemblies of God Church, a large Pentecostal denomination, was detained despite suffering from what fellow Christians called “serious illnesses”, including heart disease and diabetes.
The 61-year-old pastor, who was forced to halt several church duties due to his medical condition, also undergoes kidney dialysis three times a week at the private Heshemi-Nejad hospital in Tehran, Iranian Christians said.
“The court was fully aware of Reverend Avanessian’s medical condition and [still] issued a harsh sentence…”, complained Mohabat News, an agency of activists and Iranian Christians.
“It’s noteworthy that on the very day that [he] was [summoned] at the court hearing he was at the dialysis clinic and unable to attend the proceedings,” the agency added.
He was given 20 days to appeal following last week’s closed-door hearing at the 26th judicial division of the Revolutuinary Court of Tehran, the capital, Iranian Chrisians said.
Christians said Avanessian was also ordered to remain at home and avoid all contacts with other Christians.
Avanessian, who is also a talented Christian singer and former secular artist, has been an ordained pastor of the Armenian and Farsi-speaking congregations of the Assemblies of God churches in Iran for more than 17 years, according to Christians with close knowledge about the case.
Iranian Christians said they are shocked that he may be behind bars during Christmas and New Year.
His detention comes amid a wider crackdown by authorities on Armenian-Iranian Christian leaders and pastors who are actively involved in evangelism among Farsi-speaking Iranians.
Several Armenian Christian leaders were reportedly summoned or detained by security authorities and ordered to stop their Christian activities or leave the country within 90 days.
“The closure of the central branch of the Assemblies of God Church in Tehran, the largest Farsi-speaking church in Iran, was perhaps the beginning of this renewed campaign,” commented Mohabat News in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Iranian Christians have expressed concern that Iran’s recently elected President Hassan Rohani has been unable, or unwilling, to keep his campaign promises to respect the rights of all minorities, including Christians, in the strict Islamic nation.
Despite the reported crackdown, Iran is home to at least 100,000 devoted evangelical Christians, including many former Muslims, according to missionaries and church groups. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos)