Aspects of our faith that are so commonplace that we often take them for granted are serious crimes in other countries, bringing horrible punishments. Yesterday we blogged about North Korea executing people for simply possessing a Bible. In Iran, since Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, if you are a Muslim convert, receiving Christ’s blood in the wine of Holy Communion is punishable by 80 lashes. Evangelism–that is, the crime of spreading Christianity–can mean 3 years and 8 months in prison. Would we pay prices like that for our Bibles, for Holy Communion, for witnessing to our faith?
An Iranian Christian was flogged on Wednesday (Oct. 30), according to rights groups, after a court in Rasht, Iran, sentenced him and three other Christians to 80 lashes for drinking wine as part of a Holy Communion service.
Behzad Taalipasand, a convert from Islam, received the 80 lashes after being arrested on Dec. 31, 2012 and sentenced this month for drinking alcohol, according to Middle East Concern (MEC) and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Drinking alcohol is not illegal for Christians, but as Shiah Islam is the state religion, it is prohibited for Muslims; the conviction and sentencing thus reflects the state view that a Muslim cannot change his/her religion.
Another convert from Islam was thought to have been whipped, but there were conflicting reports as to whether it was Mehdi Dadkah – also known as Danial – or Mehdi Reza Omidi, also known as Youhan.
A CSW representative said that Taalipasand and the other Christian in question were flogged with “extreme violence.” Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, told Morning Star News the flogging was unjust and inhumane.
“It’s horrifying,” Shea said. “It drains the regime of its legitimacy because of its cruelty. Because it is cruel and unusual punishment.”
Taalipasand, Omidi, Dadkah and Amir Hatemi (also known as Youhanna) all received notice on Oct. 20 that they had been convicted of drinking alcohol and owning a satellite antenna and would receive 80 lashes. The four Christians filed an appeal of the sentence but found out the same day that the punishment was to be carried out, as the appeal had been denied or not received.
All four converts from Islam were arrested during state crackdowns on house churches. Although the exact dates of Dadkah’ and Hatemi’s arrest remain unclear, Taalipasand and Omidi were arrested Dec. 31, 2012 but were later released on bail on Jan. 16. Taalipasand was tried once before in 2011 on similar charges but was acquitted. It was not known when or even if the sentences for the other two Christians will be carried out.
A CSW representative called the sentence “appalling.”
“The sentence is unjust, and they are being punished for simply partaking in a sacrament practiced for centuries by Christians the world over,” said CSW Press Officer Kiri Kankhwende. “It is an infringement on their right to manifest one’s faith in practice, worship and observance, as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR], to which Iran is signatory.”
In the latest of a series of harsh court decisions, on Oct. 12 an appeals court in Shiraz upheld prison sentences against four alleged members of the Iranian house church movement.
Mojtaba Hossein, Mohammad-Reza Partoei (also known as Korosh), Vahid Hakkani and Homayoun Shokouhi were sentenced on charges of attending a house church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the regime and disrupting national security, according to MEC. The court upheld the sentence of three years and eight months in prison for each.