Friday, October 28, 2011

Iran Attempts to Convert Christian Prisoners as Crackdown on Church Intensifies

Authorities Giving Christian Prisoners Islamic Materials in Attempts to Make Them Incriminate Themselves

By Michael Ireland
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

RASHT, IRAN (ANS) -- A United Kingdom-based Christian human rights group has been informed that Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who is currently in prison awaiting a final decision from the Supreme Leader of Iran regarding a death sentence for apostasy, was recently presented with Islamic literature, allegedly as part of an official campaign to convert Christian prisoners.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) www.csw.org.uk says local sources report that a renewed campaign of harassment of Iranian Christians is underway in Iran, and that several members of the Church of Iran denomination, to which Nadarkhani belongs, have recently been called in for questioning.

In its latest media update, CSW says that many have been threatened with charges of blasphemy, while one was informed he would be punished for engaging in “actions against the security of the state,” a term increasingly adopted in reference to taking part in Christian meetings.

CSW was also informed that another Church of Iran member, Mehdi Furutan, was recently transferred from Shiraz prison to an underground cell in Adelabad security prison, where the torture of inmates regularly takes place.

“Mr Furutan has been incommunicado for a week and his current condition is unknown, “ CSW reported, adding: “He had just begun serving a one year prison sentence, after an earlier sentence for ‘crimes against the order’ was upheld at an appeal hearing.

“Whilst in the general prison in Shiraz Mr Furutan had also been presented with Islamic religious books, and sources fear that his transfer to Adelabad may have been prompted by responses he may have made when questioned about them.”

CSW said it has also learned that Pastor Benham Irani of the Church of Iran, who led a church in Karaj, was informed on October 18 that he would immediately begin serving a five-year sentence for an earlier conviction for ‘action against the security of the country,’ which had been suspended since the verdict was confirmed at an appeal hearing in February 2008.

The group added: “The pastor was due to complete a one-year prison sentence for Christian activities on October 20. While a charge of apostasy was not brought against him, the verdict included text that defined Pastor Irani as an apostate and reiterated that apostates ‘can be killed.’’

CSW’s Special Ambassador Stuart Windsor said, “CSW is deeply concerned at news of a further increase in the harassment of Iranian Christians, especially the wording of the verdict against Pastor Irani, which, according to local sources, opens the way for execution or even assassination.

“The condition and treatment of Mehdi Furutan and of all persons held in the Adelabad facility is another source of concern. There is an increasing tendency by Iranian courts and officials to characterize legitimate Christian activities as crimes against the state.”

Windsor added:“In addition, reports that non-Muslim prisoners are being forced to comment on Islamic theological works in a manner that could possibly render them vulnerable to mistreatment, and even to charges of blasphemy, indicates that Iran is violating article 23 of its constitution, which forbids the investigation of an individual’s beliefs. Iran is also in flagrant violation of its obligations under international law to allow all of its citizens to freely manifest their religious beliefs.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.


** Michael Ireland is Senior Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) Internationalwhere you can make a donation online under 'Donate' tab, then look for 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' under 'Donation Category' to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Newswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior Reporter

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