Monday, April 4, 2011

5 Iranians to stand trial on blasphemy charges

Five Iranian Christians, who were recently sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for crimes against the Islamic Order at the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, will stand trial in a lower court on blasphemy charges this week, reported Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Mohammad Beliad, Parviz Khalaj and Nazly Beliad, members of the Church of Iran denomination, were arrested in June 2010 on charges of apostasy, political meetings, blasphemy and crimes against the Islamic Order. They spent eight months in jail before being released on bail in February. Their lawyer has appealed the one-year prison sentence for crimes against the Islamic Order, and a decision is pending.

It was initially assumed that the other charges against the five men had been dropped. However, a source close to the detainees has revealed that they will now face charges of blasphemy in a lower court, possibly due to the fact that  lower courts are generally more disposed to hand down guilty verdicts.

The situation for Christians in Iran is worsening, with churches finding it difficult to hold meetings, and many Christians attempting to flee the country. 

Christians in Iran are also increasingly concerned for Youcef Nardarkhani, the pastor of a large congregation in the city of Rasht, who was arrested in late 2009. He remains in prison after having been sentenced to death for the crime of apostasy, despite there being no articles in the Iranian legal code that refer to such a crime. Instead, the presiding judge in the Nardarkhani case based his ruling on texts by Iranian religious scholars. An appeal to the Supreme Court was filed in December, and a hearing is due within two months.

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