Two more Iranian pastors imprisoned for Christian faith

Washington D.C., Aug 7, 2012 / 11:45 am (CNA).- Two Christian pastors in Iran have been put in prison and are “facing grave danger” due to their faith, said the leader of a Washington, D.C.-based law center that advocates global religious freedom.

Pastors Farshid Fathi and Behnam Irani have been “targeted by the Iranian government” and are “being punished for their Christian beliefs,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.

“The nation of Iran is one of the world's worst offenders when it comes to abusing religious and human rights,” Sekulow told CNA on August 6. He explained that “there are many suffering because of their belief in God and their desire to share their faith.”

For months, the American Center for Law and Justice has been working to draw attention to the plight of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who has spent more than 1000 days in prison and has received a death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity.

On July 30, the organization said that it had recently learned of two more Iranian Christian pastors who have been imprisoned for their beliefs.

While the Iranian regime has argued that the men are guilty of  “political offenses,” this claim is merely a move to “avoid international scrutiny,” the group explained, adding that the pastors' alleged crimes are nothing more than an attempt to peacefully practice their Christian faith.

The law center reported that Pastor Farshid Fathi is currently serving a six-year sentence in “the notorious” Evin prison after losing an appeal.  

Arrested one day after Christmas in 2010, Fathi has had his religious freedom seriously violated and is separated from his wife and children, the group explained in a statement.

“Fathi was arrested solely for his Christian faith,” the organization said, observing that Iranian authorities had equated his Christian activities with “actions against national security” and charged him with possessing religious propaganda including Bibles and Christian literature.

According to Reverend Sam Yeghnazar of Elam Ministries, Fathi has become “a shining beacon for Christ in Evin prison,” attracting attention and becoming one of the most “beloved” inmates despite his harsh treatment.

In addition, the law center said, Pastor Behnam Irani – a 41-year-old husband and father of two – is being held about 30 miles away in Ghezal Hezar prison.

Irani has technically not been charged with apostasy, but rather with engaging in “Christian activities” that amounted to "actions against the regime," the group noted.

However, the verdict against him calls him an apostate and says that he therefore “can be killed.”

Reports indicate that critical medical treatment is being withheld from the pastor, who is suffering from “severe bleeding due to stomach ulcers,” as well as colon complications that recently caused him to lose consciousness temporarily.

He has also reportedly received death threats and beatings from other prisoners and the authorities.

Sekulow said that these are just some of the injustices that are taking place against Christians in Iran.

He emphasized prayer and publicity as “two very effective avenues Christians can use when it comes to combatting this kind of evil.”

“As Christians, we believe in the power of prayer,” he said.

In addition, Sekulow highlighted the importance of “shining a spotlight on these horrific cases of religious persecution” in order to call international attention to the brutality of the Iranian government and the urgent plight of the imprisoned pastors.  

He explained that the American Center for Law and Justice is working “to engage our U.S. State Department – and other top government officials at the U.N. and abroad – to highlight these critical cases.”

“Iran must be held accountable for this abhorrent behavior,” he stressed. “Iran needs to know that the world is watching.”

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