22nd August, 2013

An Iranian court has sentenced a young evangelical Christian to one year imprisonment and two years exile to a remote border town for his involvement in evangelism and house churches, Iranian Christians told BosNewsLife on Tuesday.

The Revolutionary Court in the city of Robat-Karim, some 27 kilometres southwest of Tehran, reportedly told Ebrahim Firouzi that his "Books (Bibles), and other means of evangelism taken from him, including his personal computer, which were used to commit this crime will be seized in favor of the government and destroyed."

Judge Ali Babaei allegedly said the sentence was justified as Firouzi had been "propagating against the Islamic regime (by) starting and directing an evangelism group, contact with opponents of the Islamic Revolution and anti-Islamic regime networks in foreign countries".

He added that Firouzi started a Christian website, distributed evangelical books and Bibles which were smuggled into the country, "and so maintained his position as an anti-Islamic Revolution agent inside the country."

Babaei also noted that the Christian "attended illegal house-churches in order to promote evangelical Christianity," according to court documents released by Mohabat News, a news agency of Iranian Christians and activists.

The judge said said holding house church services was "a criminal act which spreads profligacy among youth and creates doubts in their minds about Islamic principles."

Therofore "the court sentences (you) to one year of imprisonment including the days already served...(and after that you are) condemned to spend two years in exile in the border town of Sarbaz in Sistan and Baluchestan province," the Christian was told.

The town of his exile, Sarbaz, has a 70 per cent Sunni Muslim population, according to estimates.

Trial observers told BosNewsLife the Christian young man had not been able to afford to hire a lawyer.

The court ruling, which was delivered directly to him last week, came as a major setback for Firouzi, who was recently released after paying 30 million Tomans ($US20,000) following 53 days behind bars.

Firouzi, a Christian convert resident of Robat-Karim, had been arrested on 7th March when four plainclothes security officers raided his workplace, Christians said.

He was transferred to Tehran's feared Evin prison where he was allegedly subjected to what Iranian Christians called "intense interrogations" for 10 consecutive days. Christians said the latest case has underscored the dangers of becoming a Christian in the strictly Islamic nation.

Many Christians prefer to organise 'house churches' in their own homes as "many Farsi-speaking churches have been closed down in Tehran and other cities across the country and pressure on Christian converts is increasing" adding to security concerns, explained Mohabat News.

This wasn't the first time the young man has been targeted by authorities. He was reportedly detained on 11th January, 2011, and after being interrogated was transferred to Ghezel-Hessar prison in Karaj where he spent 154 days in custody.

Firouzi has 20 days to file an appeal against his latest sentence and ask an appeal court to review this ruling, Christian observers said.

- BosNewsLife