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US condemns Iran for flogging Christian convert for taking Communion

US condemns Iran for flogging Christian convert for taking Communion

Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi was given 80 lashes on 14 October for drinking wine as part of Communion.

The US State Department has condemned the flogging of Iranian Christian convert Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi for drinking Communion wine.

Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus tweeted on Friday that the US was “deeply disturbed” by reports of Youhan’s flogging, noting that he had already spent two years in prison because he belonged to a house-church.

“We condemn these unjust punishments and urge Iran to allow all Iranians the freedom to practise their beliefs,” Ms Ortagus wrote.

Youhan was lashed 80 times on 14 October, a month to the day after he began serving two years in internal exile – another punishment related to his house-church membership.

Youhan had received a summons on 10 October from the authorities in his home city of Rasht, more than 1,000km north of his city of exile, ordering him to travel back home at his own expense to receive his lashes. However, when he went to the local authorities in his city of exile, Borazjan, to seek permission to travel back to Rasht, they carried out the lashes then and there.

Youhan was sentenced to the 80 lashes in September 2016, alongside two of his fellow house-church members, Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, by a Rasht civil and revolutionary court which at the same time refused to convict them of “acting against national security” by conducting house-churches.

That conviction – and accompanying 10-year sentences – was instead imposed on them, and their pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, a year later by a revolutionary court in Tehran.

Youhan’s prison term was later reduced to two years, but Yousef and Saheb remain in prison.

This was not Youhan’s first experience of lashes. He was also given 80 lashes in 2013, alongside one other house-church member, for the same reason: they had used wine with Communion.

Speaking to BBC Persian, Article18’s advocacy director Mansour Borji called Youhan’s flogging “inhumane and humiliating”, adding that Youhan had also been imprisoned and then sent into exile “solely for his Christian belief”.

“Now, as a Christian and just for the performing a religious ritual that all Christians do around the world, he has suffered 80 lashes,” he said.

Mr Borji also highlighted the case of fellow converts Sam Khosravi and Maryam Falahi, whose two-year-old adopted daughter Lydia is due to be removed from their care because they are Christians.

He called on the international community to “go beyond slogans and not just express concern about the situation of Christian citizens’ rights, but show in practice that this matters to them”.

“If they are to make concessions to Iran in economic and trade exchanges, they should make this conditional on the observance of human-rights standards in Iran,” he said.