By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– The health of a jailed pastor of one of Iran’s largest evangelical house church movements is deteriorating and there were fears Monday he may die, a well-informed representative told BosNewsLife.
Behnam Irani, who was jailed for what critics view as “trumped up” charges of “crimes against the Islamic state” is “experiencing some sort of in intestinal disorder,” said Jason DeMars who supports the family as director of advocacy group Present Truth Ministries.
“His family is very concerned because his brother died from intestinal cancer,” DeMars added in a statement.
Irani, who is in his 40s and married with two children, has been behind bars in a prison of Karaj city, where he led a congregation of the Church of Iran house church movement.
Christians said he was detained in April 2010 when security forces raided Irani’s house in Karaj during a worship service. Iranian Christians said at the time that security forces beat Irani and confiscated Bibles and other Christian literature and DVDs.
In October, three days prior to his scheduled release, Iranian judicial authorities extended the prison term for Pastor Behnam Irani by five years, rights groups said earlier.
Another Pastor, Mehdi Karbalaee, left the country and is waiting for his trial to take place in Iran’s capital Tehran on charges linked to his Christian activities, DeMars said.
“He will be put on trial without him being present,” DeMars explained, adding that the pastor is facing a difficult time because of “the bail that was posted for him and his residency [permit] in the country he has fled to.”
The name of the nation was not revealed, apparently because of security concerns.
His colleague, Pastor Matthias Haghnejad, who was acquitted for “crimes against the order” in am Iranian court, is however “being put on trial again for the same crime” DeMars said.
ELEVEN ON TRIAL
“There were 11 others put on trial with him and they are now going to have to go to court for the second time.”
His fellow Christian defendants were identified as his wife Anahita Khadeimi, Mahmoud Khosh-Hal and his wife Hava Saadetmend, Amir Goldoust, Mina Goldoust, Zhaina Bahremand, Fatemah Modir-Nouri, Mehrdad Habibzade, Milad Radef, Behzad Taalipasand and Amin Pishkar.
“Their second trial after being acquitted of these crimes previously will be one month from now in March,” De Mars said.
The rights official added that the latest developments “highlight the human rights abuses of the corrupt Iranian regime.”
Iranian officials have denied wrongdoing, saying they defend the values of the strict Islamic state.
“Ultimately,” DeMars stressed, “this is a spiritual battle of good against evil and of the Spirit of God against the spirit of Satan.” He said the Christians need prayers “to face the battle that they are going through.”
It comes amid a wider reported crackdown on especially Muslims-turned-Christians and house churches.
Well-known Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is among others being detained. He faces a death penalty after rejecting an offer to be released from prison if he publicly acknowledges Islam’s prophet Mohammed as “a messenger sent by God” well-informed Christians and rights activists told BosNewsLife earlier.
Despite the difficulties, there may be as many as 100,000 devoted Christians in heavily Islamic Iran, according to conservative church group estimates, although other churches say there may be hundreds of thousands of Christians in the country.
Besides launching a crackdown, Iran’s Islamic government reportedly are involved in a campaign promotung the Sh’ite version of Islam both at home and in North Africa and the Sunni nations of the Gulf, Christians told BosNewsLife.