02/21/2005, 00.00
IRAN
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Protestant clergyman sentenced to three years in prison

Tehran (AsiaNews/Compass) – A Tehran military court sentenced Hamid Pourmand, an Iranian Protestant clergyman, to three years in prison.

Reverend Pourmand converted to Christianity 25 years ago and was serving as an army colonel until his arrest. He was found guilty of deceiving the Iranian armed forces by not declaring when he acquired officer rank that he was a convert from Islam to Christianity. Under the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is illegal for a non-Muslim to serve as a military officer.

During his trial, Pourmand's attorney produced several documents in which his client's military superiors had acknowledged years ago that he was a Christian. He had even been excused by his commander from observing the Muslim month of fasting, an exemption granted only to non-Muslims. Never the less, the court ruled that Colonel Pourmand was guilty of giving false testimony and producing falsified documents. Its verdict came during the second and final hearing of his military trial that had begun in late January.

Colonel Pourmand (see photo, with his family) was arrested in September of last year during a raid against a meeting of the Assembly of God, a Protestant Church in which he serves as a pastor.

Initially, it was feared that the charge of 'military espionage' might lead to a death sentence. He was later charged with 'apostasy', which under Iran's Criminal Code carries the death penalty, and 'proselytising'.

Following the Court's decision, Nina Shea, director of the Washington's Center for Religious Freedom, called on the Iranian government to immediately release him.

"This is a shocking travesty of justice, even by Iran's meagre standards," Ms Shea said.

A delegation from the European Union that was visiting Iran also asked Iranian authorities to release the Protestant clergyman and respect religious freedom in the country.

"Hamid Pourmand," Ms Shea added, "is serving hard prison time for peacefully exercising his right to free conscience under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." The fact that he "changed his religion before the revolutionary Islamic regime came to power and has documents showing that he openly lived a Christian life the past quarter century did not protect him from the ideology of hatred against other religions, including other Muslim interpretations, that underpins the Iranian judiciary." (LF)

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