By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iranian authorities have decided to prosecute a group of evangelical Christians on charges of “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, which could carry the death penalty in the strict Islamic nation, a representative of a large house church movement told BosNewsLife Thursday, February 10.
Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Mohammad Beliad, Parviz Khalaj and Nazly Beliad, detained since early last year, already faced prosecution for “actions against the system”, “political meetings” and “contact with opposition groups,” said Firouz Khanjani, a council member of the Church of Iran movement.
“The trial of our brothers took place Sunday [February 6]”, in front of the the first chamber of the Revolutionary Tribunal of Shiraz, he explained. However coming “Sunday, February 13, they will have to answer, in the 120th chamber of a normal tribunal, the charges of Apostasy,” among other accusations he told BosNewsLife.
“The charge of apostasy was initially dropped but they decided to reintroduce it,” he added.
“Crimes against the Islamic order”, has also been added to the long list of accusations, linked to their activities within Church of Iran related house churches.
SETBACK FOR PASTOR
The trial also came as a setback for house church pastor Behrouz who had hoped to be released on bail after some eight months in jail, he said. “The Political Police asked the judges to stop this process. He will remain in prison till the verdicts.”
Khanjani said he was concerned that authorities are now “elevating being Christian to a political” crime. “Basically if you’re Christian, then you must be against the regime. This might sound laughable but with this view they are moving forward.”
The house church Christians are part of several Christian groups detained in recent months, Christians have said. “Behrouz, Parviz and Furutan, also known as Petros, have been arrested in January 2010 and Mohammed Beliad and his wife in March.”
Khandjani said his church had urged Christians around the world to “pray that the Lord would continue to deliver them from their enemies, and strengthen them and their families to stand for the Lord Jesus in this time of persecution.”
News about the latest trial comes amid European Union concern over the situation of Christian detainees in Iran. In December, a Christian member of the European Parliament already urged the European Union’s executive body, the European Commission, to prevent the death sentence of another Iranian house church leader, Yousef Nadarkhani.
Legislator Peter van Dalen, who represents the Dutch party ChristenUnie (ChristianUnion), said he fears Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani could be executed by hanging for “apostasy”.
The United States has charged that “government respect for religious freedom continued to deteriorate in Iran” and that even Muslims who are not from the majority Shiite group faced “substantial societal discrimination.”
IRAN DEFENDS POLICIES
In a recent statement carried by state news agency IRNA, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast hit back accusing the US of infringing the religious rights of Muslims. “The US government expresses concern about the situation of some fake cults fabricated by English colonialists and Zionists while … it is the biggest violator of Muslims’ religious rights.”
Other Iranians deemed dangerous to the regime also face the death penalty, Western diplomats say. Last week the Netherlands froze official contacts with Iran to protest the hanging of a Dutch-Iranian woman.
Zahra Bahrami was executed Saturday, January 29, more than a year after she was detained during protests against the re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).