By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
Pastor Amin Khaki of the Church of Iran in Karaj, west of Tehran, was reportedly ordered to report to prison on November 10.
He was detained with four other Christians in Karaj in December 2017 and released in early 2018 after submitting 30 million Tomans (some $7,100 on bail, sources explained.
Khaki was eventually sentenced to 14 months imprisonment in March 2019 for “spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said Christians familiar with the case.
He reportedly began serving his sentence in July 2019. Four other Christians arrested with him were each sentenced to four months in March 2019 but were released after serving their sentences.
In March 2020, Pastor Khaki was granted temporary leave from prison due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Iran, Worthy News learned. He was informed that he had been “fully released” on April 6, but authorities later changed their mind, legal procedures suggested.
The pastor was already detained on several occasions and has served a prison term from March 2014-January 2015 on charges linked to his Christian activities.
He was part of a group of eight Christians who were detained and interrogated after gathering for a Christian picnic, several sources said.
In June this year, Pastor Khaki, together with Iranian Christians Milad Goudarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi, stood trial in Karaj, according to trial observers and rights activists.
They were charged with “sectarian activities” under a new amendment to the Iranian penal code, according to well-informed Christians.
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which supports the pastor, told Worthy News that the men were prevented from being represented by their lawyer.
This happened though the lawyer “had fulfilled all the necessary requirements for participation ten days before the trial began,” CSW claimed.
On June 26, the three men were each sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of “engaging in propaganda against the Islamic regime.”
All three are appealing the verdict, Christian’s said.
CSW’s President Mervyn Thomas told Worthy News that forcing Pastor Khaki to serve a sentence under appeal already sends a “negative message to religious minorities in Iran.”
It “essentially amounts to a criminalization of Christianity,” and “we refute the charges leveled against Pastor Khaki and his colleagues,” he added.
CSW has urged Iran’s Islamic authorities to overturn the charges release the pastor and others detained “under similarly unjustified charges immediately.”
Thomas said his group also asked the international community to press Iran to end all forms of discrimination “against religious minorities.”
The crackdown comes as Christianity is rapidly spreading in the strict Islamic nation, including among Muslims.
The clandestine phenomenon, sometimes called Muslim Background Believers (MBBs), often lacks clergy and church buildings.
But the Church of Iran tries to structure its many house churches, including many Christian converts with Muslim backgrounds.
Well-informed Christian groups estimate there may be at least 720,000 MBBs in the country, up from roughly 370,000 in 2013.
Iran’s Islamist authorities have stepped up detentions of MBBs, with many facing lengthy prison terms and potentially execution.
In 1990, for example, Reverend Hossein Soodmand was executed for “apostasy,” the word used for abandoning Islam.
In 2008, the government advanced legislation to impose the death penalty on anyone born to Muslim parents who converts to another faith, according to sources familiar with the legislation.
Iran’s leading Islamic seminary views the domestic fight against Christianity as one of its top priorities.
Ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly once vowed to “stop Christianity in this country.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, blames house churches on “Zionists and other enemies.”
However, several Christian groups say that the government has been unable to reverse the trend with a growing number of Muslims turning to faith in Christ.
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