By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
IRAN (ANS – October 29, 2016) – Three Iranian Christians sentenced to receive 80 lashes for drinking wine during a Communion service filed an appeal Wednesday (Oct. 25) to have their case overturned, a noted advocacy group reported.
According to Morning Star News, in a trial that lasted a mere 10 minutes, the three converts from Islam, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie, on Sept. 10 were all sentenced to receive 80 lashes for drinking wine. It was the second time Fadaie and Omidi have been sentenced to flogging for taking Communion.
Although Christians are allowed to consume alcohol in Iran, Muslims are not.
Advocacy group, Middle East Concern (MEC), says that the charges “reflect the state view that a Muslim cannot change his or her religion.”
The Iranian government uses the alcohol statute as another way to harass converts to Christianity, Kiri Kankhwende of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told Morning Star News.
“The charge of drinking alcohol for Muslims is found in the sharia penal code and is illegal,” Kankhwende said. “Consuming alcohol by non-Muslims is not illegal in Iran, however, Iranian authorities tend to use this to intimidate Christians from a Muslim background, to discourage conversion and make life more difficult for converts.”
Some Iranian Christians believe that more conservative elements in the government are trying to create an Iranian church that is compliant with sharia [Islamic law] or an “Islamic-style church,” she said.
The attorney for the three Christians has not publicly released the grounds for the appeal on the alcohol charges, but the filing was submitted on the last day possible. Advocates monitoring the case expected an appeal to be filed on Oct. 15, but complications with another trial in which the three Christians are charged led to a delay in filing the appeal.
On October 15, 2016, the three men and a third convert, pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, were tried on charges of “acting against national security,” a catch-all charge often used by the government to punish different types of religious and political dissent, according to human rights activists. The government often uses it against converts instead of the charge of apostasy, according to Rob Duncan, MEC’s regional manager for Iran.
“Prosecutors in Iran are not keen to charge converts with apostasy because of the legal complications as well as international condemnation,” Duncan said. “Therefore, active converts are frequently charged with action against national security as a catch-all. It is poorly defined what such actions are and relatively easy for interrogators, prosecutor and court to say that by becoming a Christian, a Muslim convert is a threat to the stability (security) of the Islamic nation.”
The penalty for crimes against national security can vary from long-term imprisonment to death, but sentences in such cases or even verdicts can be difficult to predict, Kankhwende said.
“Such accusations are often unsubstantiated, and evidence is generally weak or even fabricated,” she said. “Confessions, if they are made, are done under torture or threat of torture. It is very difficult to predict the outcomes at court as prisoners are usually denied access to lawyers.”
Domestic, regional, and international politics may sometimes impact verdicts as cases related to freedom of religion or belief can carry political messages that may reflect certain political tensions, she added.
Morning Star News said that Iran’s internal security apparatus, VEVAK, on May 13 conducted a series of raids against at least 10 Christian-owned homes. Officials temporarily detained Nadarkhani and his wife, Fatemeh Pasandideh, but then released them both. Authorities took Mossayebzadeh, who was also at one of the houses, into custody.
VEVAK agents summoned Omidi and Fadaie to their office by phone and then arrested them in connection with the raids, according to CSW. Weeks later, Mossayebzadeh and Fadaie were released each on the equivalent of a $33,000 bond, Mossayebzadeh on May 28 and Fadaie on May 29. Omidi remained in detention until officials released him June 7, also on a $33,000 bond.
On July 24, court officials summoned Nadarkhani to court and charged him with crimes against national security. He was ordered to post a bond of $33,000, released and given a week to raise the money.
“Nadarkhani is no stranger to government persecution. In 2010, the Iranian government charged Nadarkhani with apostasy and sentenced him to death,” added Morning Star News. “The charges stemmed from a 2009 arrest after Nadarkhani went to his children’s school to question the Islamic-only religious education that was available.
“Eventually court officials acquitted him on the charges, and in September 2012, he was released from prison. He was found guilty of evangelizing, however, and three months later ordered back to prison on Dec. 25, 2012, and released almost one year later, on Dec. 7, 2013.”
Photo captions: 1) Man receives lashes in Iran. 2) Bottle of communion wine. 3) Yousef Nadarkhani and his wife pictured in prison. 4) Dan Wooding reporting for ANS from outside of the Kurdistan Parliament in Northern Iraq.
For more information, please visit http://morningstarnews.org/.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren, who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is the author of some 45 books, and has been a full-time journalist since 1968, when he joined the Billy Graham-owned UK newspaper, The Christian. While still based in London, Dan Wooding was a senior reporter for two of Great Britain’s largest-circulation newspapers, and was an interviewer for BBC Radio One and also for LBC, the capital city’s main commercial talk station. Dan now has a weekly radio show and two TV shows all based in Southern California. He has reported widely from the Middle East, and his last trip was to Northern Iraq.
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