By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– A jailed Iranian pastor, who may be executed for “apostasy”, already faces death as authorities continue to deny him medical care despite earlier promises, a church official and close friend told Bmay be BosNewsLife.
Pastor Behnam Irani was was still suffering behind bars Sunday, August 26, said Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the pastor’s ‘Church of Iran’, a growing evangelical house church movement.
“He was several times unconscious,” added Khandjani in an interview with BosNewsLife.
News of the worsening health situation came nearly a month after he was told that Iranian doctors wanted to remove part of his intestines.
“Pastor Behnam Irani has a blood infection and he might be sent to a hospital for surgery…[They] may remove part of his intestines, which are [the] source of infection,” said Khandjani at the time.
“However despite earlier promises nothing has been done,” he said.
Christians have linked his health troubles at least partly to reported mistreatment in the Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj city, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the
nation’s capital Tehran.
Iranian officials reportedly told the pastor he is “not going to leave the prison alive”.
He began serving a one-year prison term in 2011 for his Christian activities, but was later told it would be extended by a five-year, previously suspended, sentence for “crimes against national security,” his church and other sources said.
However Khandjani warned there is also “an implicit death penalty in the verdict” of the court.
He said the court called the pastor, who is in his 40s, an “apostate” while “a judge said that apostates must be put to death.”
It is not yet clear when and if the death sentence will be confirmed and carried out under Iran’s complicated and often secretive judicial system.
His fellow pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, already faces execution, but a new trial will start September 8 at a special court near Lakan Prison in the northern city of Rasht, amid international pressure to release him, the Church of Iran said.
Khandjani cautioned that the pastor face “the same” death-sentence-carrying “charges of apostasy”, or abandoning Islam. He said church leaders have been asked to testify against the pastor, adding that some are willing to do so.
Many “true leaders have already fled” or continue to refuse to testify against the pastor, he said. “They are expected to be present at the trial,” Khandjani added speaking from an undisclosed location amid security fears.
Iran’s feared secret service also tried to infiltrate churches and authorities even appoint church leaders, Khandjani said speaking from a secret location.
At the same time Iran’s religious leadership is reportedly divided over whether Nadarkhani should be executed. “Much will depend on the reactions of the international community,” added Khandjani.
He said Nadarkhani’s wife and two children face a “difficult, painful time” as they still await his fate.
The pastor himself has called his detention and legal difficulties as “the day of exam and trial” of his faith. “Though my trial…has been so long, and as in the flesh I wish these days to end, yet I have surrendered myself to God’s will,” Nadarkhani wrote recently from Lakan Prison near the northern city of Rasht, where he has been held since 2009.
“These days…are hard” but “to prove [my] loyalty and sincerity to God, I am trying to do the best in my power to stay right with what I have learned from God’s commandments,” he said.
Christians have linked the reported crackdown to concerns within Iran’s leadership over the spread of Christianity in the strict Islamic country, though officials have strongly denied wrongdoing, saying Nadarkhani violated the laws of the land.