By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– There was mounting concern Tuesday, July 17, about the health situation of jailed and mistreated Iranian Pastor Behnam Irani after he became unconscious and was hospitalized, an official assisting him with advocacy said.
The 41-year-old Irani, who Christians said was previously beaten by fellow inmates encouraged by prison officials, “continues to suffer from bloody stool, and within the last week was so sick that he became unconscious,” explained Jason DeMars of the Present Truth Ministries advocacy group.
“As a result he was finally allowed to go to the prison hospital” of the Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj city, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the nation’s capital Tehran, he told BosNewsLife.
“It appears that what he was suffering with was not intestinal, but rather a bleeding ulcer,” DeMars confirmed. He sent a letter to his group’s supporters asking churches, prayer groups and Bible study gatherings to pray for the pastor.
“We are thankful that he has been allowed to see a doctor and is being treated for his illness, but since the situation is so serious, we ask for your prayers for his healing. Jesus said [in Bible verse Mark 9:23] ‘If thou canst believe all things are possible’,” he wrote.
“Let’s put our faith together in prayer for our brother who is suffering and believe for his healing.”
Irani, who became a Christian in 1992 and a pastor in 2002, is behind bars on charges that include “crimes against national security”.
Iranian Christians have linked the charges to his involvement in holding house church services and “leading people to Christ.”
The pastor began a one-year prison term in 2011, but was later informed he would also have to serve a five-year, previously suspended, sentence.
Irani was previously detained on several other occasions and security forces reportedly raided his church service in 2010, where they also confiscated Bibles as well as other Christian literature and DVD’s from Christians.
Trial observers have expressed concerns the pastor may eventually face the death penalty in the future, as an appeals court reportedly recommended the prosecutor to pursue the charge of “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam, against him.
The court wrote that execution was appropriate “Considering the explicit confessions of the above mentioned individual [Irani] during the trial, that his father and mother were Muslims and he, himself, also opted for Islam when he reached maturity, and then left the holy religion of Islam and became a Christian.”
Additionally, “he also deceived a group of people into leaving Islam. Therefore as mentioned in … [Islamic religious text] … the above mentioned individual is definitely an innate apostate, and the sentence for innate apostasy is death,” the court wrote, according to a translated text seen by BosNewsLife.
It was not immediately clear if Iranian authorities pursue the apostasy charge for Irani, who is married with two young children.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani of the Church of Iran, one of the country’s largest house church movements, already faces execution on charges of apostasy.
Iranian authorities reportedly said this month he will face new charges in September, including ‘blasphemy’ and ‘threatening national security’, but DeMars told BosNewsLife that “Neither he nor his attorneys have received any official notification from the court regarding his upcoming trial.”
“We wonder how the attorneys can argue a case before the court if they do not know what charges are being brought. This, once again, demonstrates the dishonesty of the Iranian legal system, but our God is able to deliver and keep brother Youcef,” added DeMars.
The trial has raised hopes among some Christians that Nadarkhani will be pardoned for the death-sentencing carrying charge of ‘Apostasy’, but trial observers stressed that only Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or Sadegh Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary, have the authority to halt an execution.
Nadarkhani, 35, was detained in his home city of Rasht in 2009, after questioning the Muslim monopoly of religious instruction for children, which he claimed was unconstitutional.
DeMars also expressed concerns about the situation of Christian songwriter Alireza Seyyedian, who he said serves a six-year prison term in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison on charges of “crimes against the order.”
He was “convicted because he was active in Christian ministry,” De Mars said, adding that “the Lord is keeping him in good physical and mental health.” DeMars, who is closely following the case, said the Christian had asked “believers around the world [to] pray for him” and “about his situation.”
Seyyedian, 36, was captured by border guards while trying to flee to neighboring, confirmed Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the evangelist’s Church of Iran, to BosNewsLife.
In a mobile phone message obtained by BosNewsLife Seyyedian said: “I was arrested on the [Iranian]-Turkish border. They are transferring me to Tehran. Good Bye and I need your prayers.”
Iran has denied wrongdoing saying those detained threaten Islamic values or the country’s security.
Christians have linked the reported crackdown to concerns within the government of strictly Islamic Iran about the growing number of Muslims converting to Christianity.
There are at least 100,000 devoted Christians in Iran, according to conservative church estimates, though several Christian groups say that number may be several times higher.