BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– A member of a major evangelical house church movement in Iran has been released on bail after some 10 months behind bars, but a Pentecostal pastor was given an additional one year sentence, Iranian Christians and activists told BosNewsLife Wednesday, January 7.
Amin Khaki of the Church of Iran was freed Saturday, January 3, after paying 500 million Iranian rials ($18,340), said The Voice Of Iranian Christians group representing local believers.
He was among eight Christians who were detained and interrogated following a picnic in Shoush city on March 5, last year, Iranian Christians said. While most of them were later released, Khaki, Hossein (Daniel) Baraunzadeh and Rahman (Zia) Bahman remained detained.
Amin Khaki was transferred to the Interim Ward of Ahwaz Prison in May, where he was reportedly facing “severe mistreatment”, activists said. Baraunzadeh and Bahman, who were jailed in Desful, were released in December 2014.
Yet, Pastor Farshid Fathi Malayeri, of the Pentecostal ‘Assemblies of God (AoG)’ church, was given an additional one-year sentence following a trial on December 29 at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, trial observers said.
The pastor is already serving a six-year sentence for “action against national security”, “cooperating with foreign organisations” and “evangelism”.
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told BosNewsLife that the additional sentence appeared to be related to a raid by security agents on Ward 350 of Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in April last year.
Some 30 prisoners required medical treatment, including Pastor Fathi Malayeri, who suffered a broken foot, CSW said.
Prison authorities said the raid was sparked by the discovery of two litres of alcohol in a ward adjacent to the jail of Pastor Fathi Malayeri, who they held responsible.
Besides the pastor, other Christians were targeted this festive season, Christians said. The Middle East Concern (MEC) advocacy group reported that the annual raids, described ironically as a “Christmas present” to Christians, also involved a crackdown on a Christmas gathering in house in Roudehen.
At least nine Christians were reportedly detained in the December 25 raid, while another 15 people were arrested during Christmas celebrations at the Tehran home of Victor Bet-Tamarz, a prominent Assyrian pastor of Shahr-Ara Pentecostal Church.
While most were released with a warning, they may be summoned for further investigation, Christians said. Pastor Bet-Tamarz was reportedly held in Evin Prison, but his exact circumstances were not immediately clear Wednesday, January 7.
Amid the tensions, CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group welcomes news that Christians such as Amin Khaki have been released on bail.
However, “we call for all charges against him to be dropped so that he can be free to get on with his life without fear of further harassment.”
He added that CSW is “extremely concerned at reports that Pastor Fathi Malayeri has been given an additional one-year sentence despite clear evidence that there was no validity to the accusations levelled against him.”
Thomas said it was “yet again another example of the authorities seeking to justify his imprisonment on trumped-up charges.”
Together with “the disappointing continuation of annual Christmas raids, it is further evidence of the ongoing suppression of freedom of religion or belief,” he added.
“We continue to call for Pastor Fathi Malayeri’s immediate and unconditional release, and for the release of all other prisoners of conscience who are unjustly detained in Iran.”
Thomas said Iran’s government should “ensure due process and allow the country’s religious minorities to enjoy freedom of religion or belief, as guaranteed under Iran’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is party.”
Iran’s leadership has in the past expressed concern about the spread of Christianity in the strict Islamic nation.