Convert from Islam acquitted of apostasy charges

Hamid Pourmand could have faced death penalty.


Teheran (AsiaNews/Mec) - Christians in Iran have learned that Hamid Pourmand, a lay leader in a church and a convert from Islam, have been acquitted of charges of apostasy and proselytising. If found guilty he would have faced the death penalty. He remains imprisoned for allegedly deceiving the Iranian army about his being a Christian.
On Saturday 28th May an Islamic judge in Bandar-I Bushehr, on Iran's Gulf coast, acquitted pastor Pourmand of charges of apostasy and proselytising Muslims. Christians news agency Compass Direct has been told that the judge reportedly stated "I don't know who you are, but the rest-of-the-world does", a clear reference to the international attention that this case has attracted.
Pastor Pourmand was formally charged with apostasy from Islam and proselytising Muslims in early April. Starting on 13th April he appeared before an Islamic court in Tehran every two or three days. He was repeatedly pressed to return to Islam. These hearings stopped after two weeks. He was transferred to his home town of Bandar-i Bushehr on the 16th May.
He was arrested 9th September 2004, together with 85 other participants of the annual general conference of his denomination. The other Christians were released in the next three days. At the time, pastor Pourmand was a lay-pastor and a colonel in the Iranian army. He was charged with hiding his conversion from his superiors because Iranian law states that army officers must be Muslims.
On 16th February 2005 pastor Pourmand was found guilty of this charge despite presenting documents in court that proved his superior were aware he was a Christian before he was promoted to the officer ranks. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment and dishonourably discharged from the army with lost of his income, pension and housing for his family. However, the local authorities delayed evicting his wife and two teenage sons from their army provided housing until the end of the school year.
In the last 16 years three Iranian church leaders have been charged with apostasy. All were convicted and sentenced to death. Pastor Hussein Soodman was hanged in 1989. Deacon Maher had a noose round his neck when he signalled his willingness to recant and was released after signing a paper to that effect in 1992. Pastor Mehdi Dibaj was condemned to death in December 1993. He was released three weeks later after a strong international outcry; only to be found murdered six months later.
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