ISTANBUL (Morning Star News) – The condition of an Iranian pastor languishing in prison on charges of “actions against the Islamic state” is deteriorating as authorities intend to kill him by denying him medical treatment, according to sources close to the prisoner.
The sources say the health of pastor Behnam Irani, a married father of two, is deteriorating rapidly, according to Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries (PTM).
“The prison scheduled a time for him to have surgery several months ago, but mysteriously this decision was reversed, and he was not allowed to receive medical attention,” DeMars told Morning Star News. “Those close to the case believe this is a deliberate attempt to bring about the conditions so that Pastor Behnam would die in prison as a result of his sickness.”
Due to injuries sustained from brutal beatings by prison guards and other inmates, Irani has suffered acute stomach ulcers and colon complications, resulting in weight loss, severe bleeding, and a blood infection, according to a November report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Another aid agency, Release International, reported yesterday (Dec. 6) that Irani has been vomiting and is unable to speak.
In January 2011 Irani was sentenced to a year in prison in Ghezal Hesar, a notoriously violent prison, for alleged “actions against national security” – leading house-church worship, according to PTM. He had previously been arrested in 2006 for “actions against national security” and received a suspended five-year sentence in 2008, but in October 2011 a judge ordered him to serve the sentence in prison due to charges of leading a house-church service.
A further danger to Irani is that the judge declared him an apostate from Islam, a verdict that could bring the death penalty. Sources close to the case have told aid agencies that officials are intentionally denying him treatment so that he will die from his injuries.
With his illnesses, he may not survive the duration of his prison sentence, according to the CSW report.
“He may not survive another five years, which is the remaining time of his sentence for trumped-up charges of ‘action against national security,’” the report states. “If he does not get the medical treatment he needs soon, he may die in prison.”
Ghezal Hesar, 20 kilometers (12 miles) northwest of Tehran, houses the nation’s most violent criminals and puts them in cells along with regime critics. Prison staff members frequently engage in torture and physical abuse of inmates, deny them access to medical care and leave them in completely unhygienic conditions, the International Society for Human Rights said in a recent report. In March 2011, the prison made headlines when 14 people were killed and 33 wounded during a prison revolt.
Irani has fought legal charges against his pastoral activities for several years. Following his original 2006 arrest and his five-year suspended sentence – in which he was out of prison but on probation – security agents assaulted him in April 2010 for leading a house-church service.
He was then incarcerated for two months in 2010 before being released on bail, and the January 2011 conviction and sentencing followed. In May 2011 he turned himself in, and following a failed appeal in October 2011, a judge ordered that he also serve out his once-suspended, five-year sentence in prison for alleged anti-state activities and “apostasy,” or leaving Islam, according to PTM.
PTM has released a letter that Irani wrote from prison in October. In it he describes his hardships in prison, encounters with fellow prisoners and personal conviction to extend love to them unconditionally.
“In jail I have attained new experiences about love, I realized,” he wrote. “Here, I live with cellmates that you can hardly see something positive in their lives and personalities. They don’t think about anything but negative values, abhorrent acts, learning new experiences in crimes and nasty literature.
“[But] immediately, I remember that Jesus Christ was sacrificed for their sins too. I become weary of myself for being unable to reflect this love to the darkness of my surroundings.”
The pastor’s difficulties come at a time of a severe crackdown on Christians in Iran, which aid and advocacy organization International Christian Concern has dubbed a “massive campaign targeting house churches.” Christian blogger Alireza Ebrahimi was arrested in November in the northern city of Gorgan. One month earlier, nine Christians from a house church in the southern city of Shiraz were arrested.
Irani has been a pastor for a decade and a Christian for 20 years.
An estimated 100,000 Christian converts practice their faith underground in Iran, a self-proclaimed Islamic theocratic state since its 1979 revolution. Charges against converts from Islam to Christianity are often treated by courts as anti-state activities.
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