By Worthy News Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News)-- An Iranian court has given prosecutors a week to prove that five Christians of a large evangelical house church denomination are guilty of blasphemy, which carries the death penalty in Iran, a senior church official told Worthy News and its affiliated news partner BosNewsLife Wednesday, April 6.
Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Parviz Khalaj, Mohammed Beliad and his wife Nazly Makarian Beliad, members of the Church of Iran, faced a trial Tuesday, April 5, in the southern city of Shiraz.
A judge concluded that, "The prosecutor did not produce any evidence of blasphemy against Islamic values," said Firouz Khanjani, a council member of the Church of Iran who monitored the proceedings.
However Iran's influential "political police" is "placing pressure on the judge, so a new trial date was set for April 12 to give [the prosecution] a week to produce new evidences against the Christians," Khanjani told BosNewsLife.
He said Iranian police "consider the expression of Christian faith by former Muslims as a blasphemy against the superiority of Islam."
The five Christians already received a one-year prison sentence for "crimes against the Islamic Order", a charge that rights activists have linked to their Christian activities.
Their lawyer has appealed the one-year prison sentence, and a decision is pending, trial observers said.
Iranian churches have also expressed concerns about jailed Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who was sentenced to death on charges of apostasy.
Additionally, several other Christians have been detained and security forces reportedly raided house churches across the country in recent months. Local Christians say authorities also confiscated, and sometimes burned, Christian books, including Bibles.
Iranian church leaders link the crackdown to concern within Iran's leadership about the reported spread of Christianity among Muslims.
In 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran, but there may be at least 100,000 Christian converts in the nation now, according to Elam Ministries, a well-informed group of Iranian church leaders.
Church officials believe "millions" can be added amid what they call "spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime."
The government has denied wrongdoing saying harsh sentences are aimed at upholding the values of this strict Islamic nation.