A Christian convert from Islam has been sentenced to six years in prison, while another believer has been unexpectedly set free after six months behind bars in Iran.
Farshid Fathi was arrested by the security forces in Tehran on 26 December 2010 as part of a major crackdown on the country’s house church movement in which dozens of Christians were arrested.
The married father of two has been held in the notorious Evin prison ever since, spending several months in solitary confinement.
Farshid was tried in a court based at the prison in January this year after his case had been postponed several times. The details of the hearing have not been made public, but Iranian Christian sources said he was accused of “action against the regime’s security, being in contact with foreign organisations and religious propaganda”; his only “crime” was practising his Christian faith.
Farshid was sentenced in mid-April to six years in prison. His lawyer is expected to lodge an appeal against the sentence.
In more encouraging news, Fariborz Azarm, a Christian from Rabat Karim, was unexpectedly released from prison on 11 April, having spent six months behind bars.
He had been arrested by plainclothes state security agents during the early hours of 17 October 2011 and taken to an unknown location. Fariborz (44), who is married with two children, was denied access to his family for the majority of his time in prison.
Iranian officials have reportedly promised to release within the next month another detained Christian, Eshan Behrooz, who is being held in Vakil Abad prison, in Mashhad. Many secret executions have taken place at that prison since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The university student was arrested on 8 July 2010 along with other new converts who were travelling together to meet with other Christians in the city of Bojnord. All but three of them were freed after a week; Eshan and a married couple refused to sign statements so were held in custody.
Eshan was temporarily released three months later upon the payment of an US$80,000 bail, pending future trial. He was kept under surveillance, which caused his physical and psychological health to suffer.
Then in November 2011 he suddenly disappeared. Eshan’s family, anxious about his whereabouts, were not informed for some weeks that he had been recalled to the Islamic Revolutionary Courts and re-imprisoned.
Eshan has been held in detention for the last five months without any evidence of wrongdoing or charges being brought against him. (30 April 2012 Barnabasfund)