11/11/2005, 00.00
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Iranian clergyman who converted from Islam allowed to visit family

Hamid Pourman, jailed for converting from Islam, has been granted permission to visit his family three days a month for "good conduct".

Tehran (AsiaNews/Compass) – Hamid Pourmand, the Iranian Protestant clergyman jailed for his faith, has been allowed to visit his family for the first time in 14 months of prison.

Despite his refusal to give up his Christian faith, the former army officer was granted a three-day pass per month to visit his family; prison officials were persuaded by his good conduct.

Pourmand has reportedly developed good rapport with both guards and prisoners at Evin Prison, a place where political dissidents and journalists like Akbar Ganji are also detained.

Despite earlier reports that Pourmand's case had been appealed before the Iranian Supreme Court, sources now say that his lawyer has decided to drop the appeal out of fear that it would be perpetually delayed, giving authorities an excuse to keep the Christian man in prison.

"Many political prisoners . . . are told that if they appeal, they will be sent back to prison or additional charges will be brought against them," Human Rights Watch stated in a 2004 report on the Iranian judiciary.

Pourmand's lawyer hopes that the government may accept a petition to grant his client amnesty either on the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, February 11, or during the Iranian New Year (Norouz) festivities on March 20.

On May 28 of this year a judge in a Sharia (Islamic) court in the clergyman's hometown of Bandar-I Busher cleared him of apostasy and proselytising charges, which are capital offences.

For two weeks from May 13 onward he appeared before a Sharia court every two or three days during which he was subjected to strong pressure to return to Islam first in Tehran, then in Bandar-I Busher.

Reverend Pourmand converted to Christianity in 1980. He was arrested in September 2004 in a raid during the general conference of the Assemblies of God Church to which he belongs. At the time he was a colonel in the Iranian army.

He was sentenced to three years in prison for having concealed his conversion from his superiors. Under Iran's Islamic law, non Muslims are banned from becoming officers in the army.

After his sentence Reverend Pourmand was dishonourably discharged, lost his salary and pension, and his family was kicked off the military housing complex where they lived.

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