1st Novem,ber, 2012
A court in Iran has sentenced an evangelical pastor, his wife and two other church workers to one year imprisonment each because they were involved in evangelism and converted from Islam to Christianity, Iranian Christians and rights activists told BosNewsLife on Wednesday.
The pastor of the Assemblies of God (AOG) church in Ahwaz city, Farhad Sabokrouh, his wife Shahnaz Jeizan and defendants Naser Zamen Dezfuli and Davoud Alijani were reportedly convicted on 15th October 15 "converting to Christianity, inviting Muslims to convert, and propagating against the Islamic regime through promoting Evangelical Christianity".
Besides the jail term, Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court in the western city of Ahwaz also ordered the confiscation of all their Christian materials and personal properties, trial observers said.
Mohabat News, an Iranian news agency comprised of Christian activists, reported that the authorities also confiscated computers, Christian books, cellphones, DVDs and sound equipment and music instruments used at the AOG church.
The Christians were reportedly given the chance to appeal the sentence.
Advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) told BosNewsLife that the prison sentence was "suspended" while they await the final verdict in Iran's complicated judicial system.
The trial came after security forces raided the AOG church during a 23rd December worship service.
"Many other members of the church were briefly detained at the time of the raid in December...The church is currently no longer meeting for fear of further raids," MEC explained.
Farhad and his wife were forced to move to the capital Tehran, according to Iranian Christians with close knowledge about the case.
Mohabat News said the pastor "has been been denied the right to hold any kind of church service or visit Christians in Ahwaz since his temporary release on bail."
It comes amid reports of a wider crackdown with evangelical, Protestant Christians dragged to prisons throughout the Islamic nation.
A group of Christian members of Britain's parliament said in a published report this week that there was widespread "harassment of Christian converts in Iran" with some "300 Christians" being detained since mid-2010.
That figure did apparently not include the hundreds of evangelicals who were reportedly detained in recent weeks for longer or shorter time.
Iran's leadership has denied wrongdoing and says it wants to defend Islamic values.
There may be as many as 100,000 devoted Christians in heavily Islamic Iran, according to conservative church group estimates, although other churches say there may be hundreds of thousands of Christians in the country.
Many of them are believed to have converted from Islam and attend evangelical churches such as AOG and home congregations.
The Fars News Agency, which is close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, has called the house churches a “network of criminals” that exploit vulnerable people, charges Christians strongly deny.
- BosNewsLife (With additional reporting by STEFAN J BOS)