Iranian Pastor Facing Possible Death Sentence

Hamid Pourmand, lay pastor of Assemblies of God has been escorted from the Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran into his home city Bandar-i Bushehr where he will stand before the Sharia court of Islamic law that has the power to sentence him to death, reports Compass Direct.

Pourmand was arrested last year in September during the Church's conference and charged for deceiving the Iranian armed forces and for being involved in spying against his country.

According to Iran's laws, it is illegal for non-Muslims to serve in the army. However, Pourmand converted from Islam to Christianity 25 years ago. Pourmand's lawyer came with documents declaring his superiors were aware of his confession, and they allegedly even allowed him not to observe the Muslim month of fasting - an exemption given only to non-Muslims. However, the court accused him of false testimony and falsification of documents and sentenced him to 3 years in prison.

The Sharia Islamic Court of Law has power to sentence him to death, a power that was last used in 1990. Even though the authorities have not given this sentence for almost 15 years, many converts from Islam to Christianity have been assassinated in the past.

According to the Pourmand's defence lawyer, the hearing at Sharia Court of Islamic law is expected to start on 21st May 2005 earliest.

The case has attracted the attention of the international public and it is being closely watched by religious and human rights groups and activists. The European Union formally protested in November describing his incarceration and trial as an "infringement of the freedom of religion or belief."

It is serious violation of human rights, as the director of the Centre for Religious Freedom at Freedom House in Washington said: "Hamid Pourmand is serving hard prison time for peacefully exercising his right to free conscience under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

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