05/18/2005, 00.00
IRAN
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Christian convert waiting for his apostasy trial asks for prayers

Reverend Pourmand is scheduled to appear before an Islamic court on charges of proselytising and apostasy and could get the death penalty and be hanged.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Compass) – Hamid Pourmand, a Protestant clergyman who was born a Muslim, was moved from Tehran's Evin Prison in an armoured car two days ago, May 16, to his home town of Bandar-i Bushehr (southern Iran), where an Islamic court will hear charges of proselytising and apostasy against him. He could get the death penalty and be hanged.

Some of Pourmand's relatives were allowed to briefly see him before his departure, but the prisoner was not permitted to speak with them. Witnesses say however that, gazing at them silently, he mouthed the words, "Please, pray for me."

Reverend Pourmand, who converted to Christianity in 1980, is a member of the Assemblies of God. At the time of his conversion he was a colonel in the Iranian army.

On February 16, he was found guilty of keeping his conversion a secret from his superiors.

Under Iran's Islamic law, non Muslims are not allowed to be in the army as officers.

Following the sentence he was thrown out of the army, lost his salary and pension and his family lost their home.

Now he is charged with proselytising and apostasy. The judges accuse him of being part of "an underground church for many years, a church through which many people have betrayed Islam and joined Christianity".

In November 2004, the European Union formally complained against the Iranian authorities for Pourmand's treatment calling his arrest and trial a "violation of religious freedom".

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