By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – Iranian Christians requested prayers Monday for a Christian convert after he turned himself in to start serving a nine-month prison term in Iran for evangelism and leaving Islam, sources told Worthy News.
Reza Zaeemi from the northwestern city of Karaj arrived June 2 at the Karaj Central Prison, where he will stay behind bars till early 2022, Christians said.
The 40-year-old Christian was first detained in November 2020, after plainclothes security agents arrested him, according to rights investigators. “He was blindfolded, handcuffed, and interrogated for four hours,” recalled Middle East Concern (MEC), an advocacy group following the case.
Zaeemi was then “held in a detention center belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and in Ghezel Hesar Prison for a total of 17 days,” the group said. He was reportedly released on bail of roughly $14,000 in local currency.
However, on January 25, Reza was sentenced to 18 months in prison for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic by promoting evangelical Christianity.” Zaeemi was also given a two-year travel ban, Worthy News learned. “On April 25, the conviction was upheld, but the prison sentence reduced to nine months,” MEC told Worthy News.
He initially “reported to prison at the end of May, but there was no judge present to process his admission,” MEC said, citing rights investigators.
An unidentified pastor, who was jailed in Karaj Central Prison for several years, “requested prayer” for Zaeemi. MEC quoted him as saying “that especially during the first days of imprisonment there is significant mental pressure.”
The pastor suggested that the detention comes amid mounting pressure on evangelical Christians in Iran, a strict Islamic nation.
“Prayer is requested” that “Iranian authorities will stop persecuting Christian converts and regarding evangelical Christianity as a crime against the regime,” he reportedly said.
He added to hope that the “Lord will strengthen and encourage Reza as he adjusts to prison.” He asked believers to pray that the “Lord will protect Reza, strengthening his faith and giving him opportunities to be a witness to the other prisoners.”
His case resembles Hamed Ashoori, a Christian convert charged with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
Ashoori was given a 10-month prison sentence in April after his final court hearing the previous month, according to Christians familiar with the case.
Already February 23, 2019, Ashoori was reportedly arrested for his church membership. His home was raided by Iranian forces who removed Christian materialists, Christians said.
At the time of the arrest, officials allegedly offered him a monthly salary to act as an informant on Christian activity. Christians said he refused and was subsequently beaten before being released days later on March 6.
As a condition of his release, courts sent Hamed to “re-education” sessions with an Islamic cleric, well-informed Christians.
After four such sessions, he reportedly refused to participate again, and his case picked back up in March 2021. He is currently appealing the sentencing.
The detentions are part of a broader crackdown on devoted Christians in the Islamic nation, according to several church sources and activists. Apostasy and spreading Christianity often lead to long prison terms and possibly a death sentence in Iran.
Despite these difficulties, mission groups suggest there are at least an estimated 360,000 Christians in the country. They include many former Muslims who turned to Christianity, seeking freedom from strict Islamic rules. Iran’s government-led Statistical Center previously reported 117,700 Christians in this nation of just over 82 million people.
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