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Human Rights Organization Concerned about Two Iranian Pastors Charged with Apostasy

A leading British-based human rights organization is concerned by reports that two Iranian pastors have been charged with apostasy, and that one of them currently faces a death sentence.

According to a news release from human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), their cases come at a time when religious minorities in the country are experiencing an increase in persecution, including detention and imprisonment.

CSW said Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, from Rasht in Northern Iran, is currently being held in Lakan prison.

He was arrested on Oct. 13 2009 and charged with apostasy after he questioned the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran. CSW said that violates both the Iranian constitution, which permits parents to raise children in their own faith, and international statutes to which Iran is party, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

CSW said Nadarkhani was reportedly tried and informed verbally in late Sept. that he was to receive the death penalty, although the written sentence was not issued until Nov. 13. Nadarkhani’s lawyers filed an appeal on Dec. 5, but a date for the hearing has yet to be announced.

Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, a second generation Christian from Tehran and chairman of the Pastoral Council of the Church of Iran, has been detained in a high security prison in Shiraz since June this year.

CSW said Khanjani was initially arrested in Jan. 2010 after being summoned to Shiraz to explain his church activities, and was detained along with two other Christians.

CSW said Khanjani was released on bail on March 17, then again ordered to Shiraz on June 16 to “present his defense,” but was re-arrested and transferred to the infamous “Plate 100 Prison.”

According to CSW, Khanjani has now been charged with apostasy, blasphemy, and contact with the enemy. The possible penalty is a death sentence. Despite the serious charges, he has only been given access to his attorney once in the period between his arrest and late Nov.

For the majority of his imprisonment Khanjani has been kept in solitary confinement. CSW has received reports that his health is suffering due to poor sanitary conditions and mistreatment.

CSW’s sources also report that Christian prisoners are subjected to eight hours of interrogation a day, and some are kept in cramped rooms where they are unable to sleep.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said in a news release, “We are deeply concerned for the welfare of Pastors Nadarkhani and Khanjani, who are detained in appalling conditions and cannot be contacted. They are being held solely for exercising their right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief.”

He added, “The international community must continue to urge the Iranian Government to release all those detained on the basis of their religious affiliation, to adhere to its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the CRC, and to ensure that all of its citizens can fully exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief.”

CSW is a human rights advocacy organization specializing in religious freedom, working on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promoting religious freedom for everyone.

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