‘Grave concern’ over health of imprisoned pastor

‘Grave concern’ over health of imprisoned pastor

Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, has expressed “grave concern” about the physical condition of imprisoned church leader Behnam Irani.

“Various reports describe Behnam’s physical condition as serious and we are concerned about his condition,” he said. “Intestinal bleeding and the need for surgery are some of the things that have been reported to date. After 17 months of Behnam’s imprisonment in Karaj Central Prison, he has not yet been given any leave, and prison officials have so far refused to provide him with medical care, despite their legal obligations.”

Behnam is currently serving six years in prison for “actions against national security” and “propaganda against the regime”.

He was initially arrested during a raid on his house-church in 2006, and given a five-year suspended sentence. After he was re-arrested in April 2010, he was given a new one-year sentence, and after going to prison to begin that sentence he was told he would also now have to serve his suspended five-year sentence.

Behnam recently wrote a letter complaining about the poor state of prisons and the persecution of Christians in recent decades, which was shared on some Christian websites and sent to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international authorities.

In the letter, Behnam wrote: “Already in the 1990s, the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence repeatedly raided the homes of Christians in various cities. Back then, the President, Mr Mohammad Khatami, was talking about ‘the dialogue of civilizations’, while members of our church were disrespected and harassed because they had gathered just to worship God and participate in spiritual fellowship.”

He added: “I applied for leave many times and no answer was given to my applications. Eventually, with the help of the parole officer, I realised that because of the order of the judicial authorities, in my file it had been written that ‘he has no chance to apply for any release’. That meant that I am completely deprived of the rights of a prisoner, whether granted parole, a reduced sentence, or a leave of absence. I have no rights.”

Mr Borji called Behnam’s imprisonment “unjust” and called for Iran’s judicial authorities to provide him with medical care “as soon as possible”.

The current and former UN special rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed and Heiner Bielefeldt, recently called on the Islamic Republic of Iran to “eliminate the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that prevails in Christian churches, especially in the homes of Protestant Christians”.

Since the revolution, several church leaders have been killed in Iran, and hundreds of Christians have been interrogated and imprisoned. The publication of the Bible in Persian has been banned, and some churches have been closed and church ceremonies prevented.