Assemblies of God Pastor and Minister Released from Iran's Sepidar Prison in Awaz

Two Christian prisoners were released on December 4 after 214 days in Sepidar Prison.

According to Mohabat News, Farhad Sabokrouh, Pastor of the Assemblies of God Church in Ahwaz, and Naser Zamen-Dezfuli, a church minister, were among those detained on December 23, 2011, when Iranian security authorities raided a Christmas celebration at the Assemblies of God church of Ahwaz and arrested everyone in attendance. All those arrested were transferred to an unknown location in two buses.

Everyone arrested was were threatened and released after being interrogated and their personal information taken.
However, Mohabat News said, Sabokrouh, his wife Shahnaz Jayzan, and church ministers, Naser Zamen-Dezfuli and Davoud Alijani, were held in prison. They were charged for converting from Islam to Christianity, proselytizing Muslims, and propagating against the Islamic regime through evangelism.

Later, the Revolutionary Court of Ahwaz sentenced each to one year in prison. Davoud Alijani was arrested and taken to prison to serve his sentence when he went to the court on May 1, 2013, while the three others were summoned to the court and transferred to prison on May 4.

Sabokrouh and Zamen-Dezfuli have been released while there are still two weeks remaining from their prison term. Mohabat News said Iranian judicial authorities have refused to provide a reason for their slightly early release. As a result, it is not certain whether or not this pardon will include the pastor's wife, and Davoud Alijani.

According to a directive from Iran's Revolutionary Court and as part of the court's policy to further pressure and persecute religious and political prisoners, Christian convicts are not to be granted leave permits while serving their sentences.

The Assemblies of God Church of Ahwaz, which is technically a house turned into a church, is registered and thus under the supervision of Iranian authorities. Despite this, the church has been targeted and subject to unreasonable pressure.

According to Mohabat News, arbitrary arrests and restrictions on Christian converts are not a new phenomenon. All religious minorities in Iran are subject to various forms of discrimination.

After the Islamic revolution of 1979, the situation of religious minorities in Iran has always been a major human rights concern.