24th March, 2011
Five Iranian Christians are to stand trial on blasphemy charges, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
The organisation says the five, all members of the Church of Iran, have already recently been sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for crimes against the Islamic Order at the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz. They will now stand trial in a lower court.
The five - Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Mohammad Beliad, Parviz Khalaj and Nazly Beliad - were arrested in June last year on charges including apostasy, having political meetings, blasphemy and crimes against the Islamic Order. CSW says they spent eight months in prison before being released in February. They are now awaiting the results of an appeal on the one year sentences.
CSW’s UK director, Stuart Windsor, said the group was dismayed by the charges.
"The international community must press Iran not only to rescind the unjust punishments to which these Christians have already been subjected, but also to acquit them at the upcoming trial," he said.
He said the group was also concerned about the judgement handed down in the case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, pastor of a large congregation in the city of Rasht who was arrested in late 2009. He is in prison after being sentenced to death for apostasy and is expected to have an appeal hearing heard within two months.
CSW have said there are no articles in the Iranian legal code that refer to such a crime but that instead the presiding judge based his ruling on texts by Iranian religious scholars.
Mr Windsor says Pastor Nadarkhani's case "did not follow due procedure under Iranian law".
"As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran has an obligation to uphold international standards of religious freedom for all its citizens, to follow due process and refrain from arbitrary judicial rulings based on open-ended legislation.”
- DAVID ADAMS