Iran Christian Colonel Jailed With Known Dissidents, report says


March 12, 2005

TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife) -- An Iranian Colonel who, despite Western protests, was jailed last month for his alleged "illegal" conversion to Christianity is held at Tehran’s notorious maximum-security prison with well-known political and religious dissidents, a Christian news agency reported late Friday, March 11.

Compass Direct, which has contacts with persecuted Christians in Iran, said Hamid Pourmand has become "popular" among his internationally known inmates at the Evin Prison facility, including intellectuals, student protestors, journalists and political activists.

"Actually, the government is very angry about this, because now he is very popular there in the jail," Compass Direct quoted an unidentified source as saying.

Friends fear Pourmand may die during his three year jail term, the news agency claimed. Human rights watchers have suggested the Evin Prison became infamous as thousands of political prisoners were reportedly tortured and executed there since 1979, when a revolution brought a hard-line Islamist government in power.

DEATH PENALTY

Pourmand could still face the death penalty because the military court verdict is currently under appeal to the Supreme Court. "If the judiciary’s threat is carried out to try Pourmand before a Sharia court of Islamic law, he could face the death penalty under charges of apostasy and proselytizing," Compass Direct observed.

A former army colonel who converted from Islam to Christianity nearly 25 years ago, Pourmand was found guilty by a military court on February 16 of “deceiving” the Iranian armed forces about his faith. The Islamic regime in Iran has made it illegal for a non-Muslim citizen to serve as a military officer, since that puts him in a position of authority over Muslim soldiers.

Although the accused Christian apparently produced documents proving that his military superiors knew about his conversion, the court declared them false. Compass Direct said Pourmand, 47, has lost 18 kilos during his six months of imprisonment, most of which was spent in solitary confinement.

IRAN INTOLERANCE

One Tehran source close to Pourmand’s case was quoted as saying he was hopeful that "this judicial proof of religious intolerance in Iran" would be highlighted during the annual six-week session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, due to begin next week in Geneva.

The European Union recently condemned the arrests of Christians like Pourmand as an "infringement of the freedom of religion or belief”, and urged his immediate release, BosNewsLife monitored. The EU also complained about the detention of over a dozen journalists, internet technicians and non-governmental organization activists.

Pourmand's arrest was reportedly also noted in the latest report on human rights in Iran released by the United States State Department, which expressed concern that “under local law, he can be executed for ‘apostasy against Islam.’” Compass Direct said Pourmand and his wife Arlet, who is from an Assyrian Christian background, have two teenage sons, Immanuel and David. They were living in Bandar-i Bushehr, a southern port city where he served as volunteer lay pastor of a small Assemblies of God congregation.

Within four days of his sentencing, the pastor’s family was evicted from their army-provided lodging and forced to relocate. His dishonorable discharge from the army automatically suspended his salary and cancelled nearly 20 years of military pension, leaving his family penniless, Christians in Iran say. (With Compass Direct News Service).

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