By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Three leaders of Iran’s largest evangelical house church movement faced an appeal hearing against their long prison terms, but they were denied access to their lawyer ahead of the trial, supporters said.
Last month an Iranian Islamic court sentenced Pastor Behnam Irani, Pastor Matthias Haghnejad, and Deacon Silas Rabbani of the Church of Iran to six years imprisonment each for “acting against national security” and forming “a group to overthrow the government”, a well-informed church official told BosNewsLife at the time.
It meant many more years behind bars for Pastor Irani as he already serves a six-year sentence for his faith, said Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the Church of Iran.
The Christians were hoping that the Sixth Branch of Karaj Revolutionary Court would at least reduce the sentence but their lawyer, Vahid Moshkani Farahani, said that he was only allowed to meet with his clients during the November 24 trial.
In published remarks he said that “multiple requests” to meet with them beforehand were rejected.
Khandjani expressed concern about Pastor Irani who he said has been denied adequate medical treatment despite his poor health. “For Irani six more years in prison means a death sentence as he is very ill.”
He was initially arrested in December 2006, and sentenced in 2011 to six years imprisonment for “action against the state” and “action against the order.”
The six-year sentences handed down Irani and the two other Christians are seen as an exceptional punishment, according to rights activists. “Similar sentences are usually limited to two years,” said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
“The sentences are indicative of a surge in repression under the Rouhani presidency targeting religious and ethnic minorities that has occurred despite his earlier promise to uphold the rights of religious minorities,” CSW said.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that it was “unacceptable” that the men were “denied access to their legal counsel” ahead of the court hearing. It was difficult to reach Iranian officials for comment. But Iran’s leadership has defended a crackdown on groups that it says are threatening the country’s Islamic system.
Evangelical Christians, including many former Muslims, are among those singled out for detention and house church raids, according to several sources familiar with the situation.
“We remain concerned about the lack of due process in their case and the exceptional nature of their punishment,” Thomas said.
“They have committed no crime and are effectively being punished for their faith. We are deeply concerned for their wellbeing and in particular for Pastor Irani’s health, which has deteriorated significantly during his unjust detention.”
He said his group had urged the Iranian authorities to release the three Christians and “the many others” who are being held, despite “international covenants guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief to which Iran is party.”
Why people are ready to suffer for Christ? Want to know more what they believe? Click here
(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since May 2004).
Will you help BosNewsLife to remain a voice of the voiceless? Click here for a subscription.