Three Iranian Christians are to appeal a sentence of 80 lashes they received for taking communion wine, according to reports.

The three Christians, who are all converts from Muslim backgrounds, were sentenced at a hearing on 10th September that reportedly lasted for just 10 minutes. UK-based religious freedom advocacy Christian Solidarity Worlwide - among organisations calling for the charges to be dismissed - said it was the second time two of the men - Saheb Fadaie and Mohammad Reza Omidi (also known as Youhan) - have been found guilty of drinking wine in a communion service.

The three men - who also include Yasser Mossayebzadeh - were arrested on 13th May during a series of raids on the homes of Christians which also targeted the home of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. All four men are also charged with crimes against national security.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of CSW, said the men were being punished "simply for partaking in a sacrament practiced for centuries by Christians the world over".

"The effective criminalisation of an important Christian sacrament is unacceptable and should not be occurring in a country with a constitution that not only recognises Christianity, but also states that no-one should be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief," he said.

CSW have urged Iranian authorities to end what is describes as an "unjust infringement on the right to manifest faith in practice, worship and observance". "We also call on Iran to ensure that the nation's practices, legal procedures and provisions do not contradict its constitutional and international commitments to ensure the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief, including the right to change belief, for every religious community.”

Meanwhile, persecuted church advocacy and support group Release International, also called for "Iranian authorities to allow its citizens to choose their own faith and to acquit the Christians". In a statement, it said that charges were laid despite the fact drinking alcohol is not illegal for Christians in Iran but is forbidden to Muslims was a reflection of "the state position that once a Muslim, always a Muslim".

Paul Robinson, the organisation's chief executive, said the state should respect the fact the men have chosen to call themselves Christians.

~ www.csw.org.uk
www.releaseinternational.org