News

Retired pastor sentenced to three and a half years in prison

Retired pastor sentenced to three and a half years in prison

Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran has sentenced Vruir Avanessian, retired pastor of the Assemblies of God Church, to three and a half years in prison. He was given 20 days to file an appeal.

The Revolutionary Court also barred the retired reverend from holding any meetings or contacting other Christians until a final verdict is issued.

Pastor Vruir served as the leader of Armenian and Persian-language churches for many years, but retired due to ill health following a kidney transplant and diabetes diagnosis.

He was arrested last Christmas in Tehran, together with a number of converts to Christianity.

The pressure on Christians in Iran is often most severe at Christmas time. In 2010, more than a dozen Christians were arrested over Christmas, including Farshid Fathi and Rasoul Abdollahi, who remain in Ward 350 of Evin Prison.

During the Christmas period of 2011, a raid on the Ahvaz Assemblies of God Church resulted in the arrest of all attendees, including children. Most church members were released after a few hours’ interrogation and after being ordered to attend no more church services, but the pastor, Farhad Sabok Rouh, his wife Shahnaz Jizan, and church members Davoud Alijani and Nasser Zamen-Dezfuli were detained and eventually sentenced to one year in prison on charges of “converting to Christianity, inviting Muslims to convert, and propaganda against the regime by promoting evangelical Christianity”.

All four were eventually sentenced to one year in prison on charges of “inviting Muslims to change religion” and “propaganda against the regime through the propagation of evangelical Christianity”.

Last week, Pastor Farhad and church member Nasser were released after spending 214 days in prison.

Christmas 2012 also saw the arrest of about 50 Christians in Tehran, including Pastor Vruir, who was charged with “action against national security” and “propaganda against the holy regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran”.