U.S.-Iranian Pastor’s Prison Term Upheld amid Crackdown on Christians in Iran

Another convert from Islam sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini. (Morning Star News photo from ACLJ)

Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini. (Morning Star News photo from ACLJ)

LOS ANGELES (Morning Star News) – Harsh treatment of Christians before the June 15 election of Iran’s new president has continued since Hassan Rouhani took office on Aug. 3, including the upholding yesterday of pastor Saeed Abedini’s eight-year prison sentence.

International calls for the release of the U.S-Iranian pastor, convicted of threatening “national security” by practicing Christianity, reportedly accompanied quiet diplomatic efforts to free him by various countries’ governments. The Tehran Court of Appeals reportedly upheld the sentence following three months of Iranian courts issuing harsh sentences for several other Christians, although the appeals court has yet to release the written verdict.

“Any new government in Iran proves its credentials by targeting Christians, Bahais and other minorities,” Michael Rubin, resident scholar on the Middle East at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), told Morning Star News. “It is not a good time to be a Christian in Iran.”

Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, had spoken before the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 5, calling on world leaders to demand his release, and nearly 620,000 people around the world signed a petition on his behalf. Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement that the ACLJ will continue to explore options for pressuring the Iranian regime to release the 33-year-old resident of Boise, Idaho, and prayer vigils will be held worldwide on Sept. 26 (see www.SaveSaeed.org).

In June, a Christian convert from Islam in Rasht, Mohammad-Hadi (Mostafa) Bordbar, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “crimes against national security,” that is, worshipping in his home and evangelizing. According to Mohabat News, notoriously harsh Judge Pir Abbasi of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced Bordbar on June 9; a written verdict was not delivered to his lawyer until July 31, and the sentence came to light when Mohabat reported it on Aug. 5.

Arrested Dec. 27, 2012 after a raid on his home, Bordbar had previously been found guilty of “apostasy,” or leaving Islam, but was not sent to prison, according to Agenzia Fides.

Ahmad Majidyar, senior research associate at AEI, told Morning Star News that Iranian authorities are particularly concerned about young Iranians leaving Islam.

“Many new Christian converts have been given long jail terms,” Majidyar said. “One reason for the increasing state repression against Christian communities is that a growing number of young Iranians have become interested in Christianity, and the government is worried about the growth of the Christian faith in the country.”

In the northwestern city of Tabriz, where the growth of Christianity has drawn concern from militant Islamic website Ya Lasarat, three converts from Islam were arrested on July 20, according to Mohabat. Farshid Modares-Aval, Mohammad-Reza Pirri and Yashar Farzin-No were beaten during interrogation, with Pirri so brutalized he required four days of hospitalization, the news agency reported.

On July 15, the Revolutionary Court in Robat-Karim (40 kilometers southwest of Tehran) sentenced Ebrahim Firouzi, a Christian convert from Islam, to one year in prison and two years in exile in the remote border town of Sarbaz, according to Mohabat.

“Evangelism activities of the accused, Ebrahim Firouzi, are considered to be in opposition to the regime of the Republic Islamic of Iran, and thus the court condemns him to one year of imprisonment including the days already served in prison,” the verdict read, according to Mohabat. Firouzi had already spent 53 days in prison.

Judge Ali Babaei wrote that Firouzi was guilty of “propagating against the Islamic regime, starting and directing an evangelism group, contact with opponents of the Islamic Revolution and anti-Islamic regime networks in foreign countries,” according to Mohabat.

In Shiraz, eight Iranian Christians received heavy jail sentences on July 16 after being found guilty of “action against the national security” and “propaganda against the system” (see Morning Star News, July 19). Mohammad Roghangir was sentenced to six years in prison; Massoud Rezaie to five years; Mehdi Ameruni and Bijan Farokhpour Haghighi were sentenced to three years; Shahin Lahooti and Suroush Saraie to two-and-half years; and Eskandar Rezaie and Roxana Forughi to one year in prison.

Iranian Christian leaders deny that the eight had any involvement in politically subversive activity.

“Although the Islamic authorities of Iran have always tried to relate house churches to foreign governments and often describe them as political groups with intention to overthrow the Islamic regime, they have not succeeded in providing a single piece of evidence for their false claims,” Mohabat stated.

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