Pastor Called Before Islamic Court

Tehran, Iran - Iranian Christian Hamid Pourmand must appear before the Islamic (sharia) court of Iran within nine days. An exact court date has not been released. Arrested last September when security police raided a church conference he was attending, the Assemblies of God lay pastor will be brought up before the Islamic court between April 11 and 14 to face charges of apostasy from Islam and proselytizing Muslims to the Christian belief. Both “crimes” are punishable by death.

Pourmand, now 47, converted from Islam to Christianity nearly 25 years ago. He spent several months in solitary confinement after his arrest last September 9, the only one of more than 80 church leaders arrested at the conference who was not released.

One of Iran’s leading Protestant pastors was executed in December 1990 after a sharia court condemned him. Hussein Soodman, also an Assemblies of God pastor and a Muslim convert to Christianity, had been involved in Christian ministry for 24 years. He was reportedly hanged on December 3, 1990, as part of what was believed then to be a new wave of repression directed against the small Christian community in this Islamic Republic.

Pourmand, an army colonel at the time of his arrest, was found guilty by a military court on February 16 of “deceiving” the Iranian armed forces about his faith, despite evidence he produced to the contrary. According to the judge of the military court, his recent three-year sentence was given because Pourmand withheld from his superiors the information that he was a Christian. The Islamic regime in Iran has made it illegal for a non-Muslim citizen to serve as a military officer, since that puts him in a position of authority over Muslim soldiers.

The military court verdict is currently under appeal to the Supreme Court. But with the judiciary’s threat to try Pourmand before a sharia court of Islamic law now being carried out, he could face the death penalty.

Hope that Case Highlights Religious Intolerance

One Tehran source close to Pourmand’s case said he was hopeful that this judicial proof of religious intolerance in Iran would be highlighted during the annual six-week session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, convening now in Geneva.

The European Union (EU) lodged a formal protest with Iranian authorities last November over the arrests of Christians -- and in particular Christian pastors -- as an “infringement of the freedom of religion or belief.”

Pourmand’s verdict was labeled “a shocking travesty of justice, even by Iran’s meager standards” by Nina Shea of Freedom House in Washington, D.C. His arrest was also noted in the latest report on human rights in Iran released in March by the U.S. State Department.

Transferred to a group prison cell at Tehran’s maximum-security Evin Prison after the February trial, Pourmand’s sentence automatically discharged him from the army, cutting off not only his regular income, but also eliminating nearly 20 years of military pension. Pourmand’s wife and two children were required to immediately vacate their home in military lodgings. “His family has nothing now,” a source confirmed. “No salary, no house, nothing.”

Pourmand and his wife Arlet, who is from an Assyrian Christian background, have two teenage sons, Immanuel and David. They were living in Bandar-i Bushehr, a southern port city where he served as volunteer lay pastor of a small Assemblies of God congregation.