10/20/2010, 00.00
IRAN

Iranian Protestant pastor, held in prison for months, risks death penalty for apostasy

Youcef Nadarkhani's wife was released a few days ago after four months of detention. The arrest comes as evangelical Christians complain of increased pressure against them, an unprecedented persecution since the advent of the ayatollahs' regime.

Teheran (AsiaNews) - The pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was charged with "apostasy" last month from the 11th Chamber of the Assizes Court of the province of Gilan, northern Iran. His lawyer is going to appeal after finding "serious procedural errors." Nadarkhani was arrested for having questioned Islamic education in schools. "We are a Christian family – he is reported to have said - I want my children to receive a Christian religious education, not Islamic. "

Fatemeh Passandideh, the wife of a famous Iranian Protestant clergyman, was released a few days ago after four months in prison, but her husband is still in jail, and could face a death sentence for apostasy, reports the "Church of Iran”.

The Christian community of the imprisoned pastor has expressed concern about the outcome of the couple’s trial, parents of two young children. The case exploded amid reports of increasing pressure by the authorities towards the "Church of Iran," an umbrella movement of several "underground" Protestant churches in a strict Islamic nation. The "Church of Iran” says it is being subjected to an unprecedented campaign of persecution since the advent of the revolution of 1979. Several members of the movement were arrested in October last year, including the pastor Behrouz Khandjani, who is still in isolation in the "wing 100" in Shiraz. "

"Elam Ministries" a Protestant group specializing in mission to Muslims says it is aware of the case of a young Iranian convert killed a few weeks ago by a relative because of his conversion, leaving a wife and two children. "Middle East Concern, a group of human rights activists said that at least three of the fifteen Christians arrested in July in Mashhad are still in prison, and "under pressure to renounce their faith, but refuse to do so". "Middle East Concern" also refers to the Iranian TV news that nine converts were arrested in Hamedan on charges of proselytism, which potentially carries the risk of a death sentence. "Elam Ministries” claims that in 1979 there were fewer than 500 Christians coming from Islam. "Today the most conservative estimates speak of at least one hundred thousand believers in the country."

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