Persecution Watchdogs Protest Against Iran Pastor Trial

Christian Persecution watchdog groups are protesting the upcoming trial of an Iranian church leader of an Assemblies of God congregation in the southern port city of Bandar-i-Bushehr in Iran. The lay pastor, 47-year-old Hamid Pourmand, is to go before a Sharia court next week on charges of apostasy from Islam and proselytising Muslims. The former charge is punishable by death.

"The government of Iran is one of the only states in the world to put someone on trial for his life solely for his religious belief," said Nina Shea, Director for Freedom House’s Centre for Religious Freedom. "The case of Pastor Pourmand—who has openly lived as a Christian for nearly 25 years—exposes Iran’s legal system to be arbitrary, extreme, and lacking in due process. The state’s criminalisation of apostasy is always subject to political manipulation and indicates an absolute negation of individual rights and freedom."

Pourmand, a former army colonel in the Iranian army, was arrested last September along with up to 85 other church leaders at the annual general conference of Assemblies of God (AG) in Iran in Karaj, 18 miles west of the capital Tehran. According to Middle East Concern and Compass Direct, he was the only one not to be released shortly after being arrested.

On 16th February of this year, Pourmand was convicted before a Tehran military court of deceiving the Iranian armed forces about his conversion nearly 25 years ago. Paramoud allegedly failed to declare that he was a convert from Islam to Christianity when he acquired officer rank. Under the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is illegal for a non-Muslim to serve as a military officer.

According to the Centre for Religious Freedom, Pourmand’s lawyer reportedly produced evidence that Pourmand’s military superiors recognised several years ago that he was a Christian and had given him exemptions from participating in Muslim fasts. However, that the evidence was rejected as false and Pourmand was sentenced to three years in prison with the loss of all benefits.

"Given that he changed his religion before the revolutionary Islamic regime came to power and had documents showing that he openly lived a Christian life the past quarter century, the charge is erroneous," stated the Center in a recently released statement.

The Centre had called for Pourmand’s immediate release from prison shortly after the court’s decision. However that call was unanswered, and as result of the conviction, Pourmand reportedly lost his 20-year army pension and home. His wife, Arlet, and two children have been evicted as a result and have no source of income, reported UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

"Hamid Pourmand has already been stripped of his freedom and his job, and his family has been made destitute," commented Stuart Windsor, CSW's National Director. "He now faces a death sentence if the shari’ah court finds him guilty. CSW calls on the international community to do all it can to put pressure on the Iranian authorities to safeguard his life."

CSW and the Centre report that Pourmand is currently in a group cell at Tehran’s Evin maximum security Prison. According to the Centre, human rights groups have reported on the prison’s deplorable conditions and use of torture there.

Pourmand is the first Iranian convert to be charged with apostasy since 1993 when Iranian Pastor Mehdi Dibaj was condemned to death, CSW reports. Although Dibaj was released three weeks later following protest from the international community, he was murdered six months later.

CSW is currently working with other NGOs to raise Pourmand’s case with the UK Foreign Office, the UN and the EU.

Kenneth Chan
Ecumenical Press

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