Published: 11:00 GMT Daylight Time - Thursday 12 May 2011
Three Christians freed from Iranian jail; pastor held
Country/Region: Iran, Middle East and North Africa
Sonia Keshish-Avanesian is now free but her husband, Pastor Vahik Abrahamian,
remains in prison
Three Christians have been released from prison in Iran after 239 days behind bars, but a pastor who was arrested with them remains in detention.
Sonia Keshish-Avanesian, Arash Kermanjani and his wife Arezo Teymouri were set free from Hamadan state prison on 30 April. It is not known why Sonia's husband, Pastor Vahik Abrahamian, was kept in detention. Both couples were brought before a court on 28 April, where their lawyers were allowed to present their defence at length, after which a judge ordered their release.
They had been arrested together at the Abrahamians' home in Hamadan on 4 September 2010, apparently in connection with a small demonstration in the city. They were accused of a variety of offences including being connected with exiled opposition sources, propagating Christianity in Iran, opposing the Islamic Republic and the formation of opposition groups in and out of the country, allegations that their family and friends said were absurd and ludicrous.
The quartet were reportedly held in isolation, suffering intense physical abuse and psychological pressure at the Ministry of Islamic Guidance prison for 40 days before being moved to Hamadan prison. Sonia was pregnant at the time of her arrest but suffered a miscarriage while in prison.
Friends who have seen Sonia, Arash and Arezo since their release say they have lost a lot of weight and feel very weak.
The Iranian government's crackdown on Christians, in particular the growing house church movement, continues. Eleven Christians are awaiting the verdict of their trial on 1 May for "activities against the [Islamic] Order" and for drinking alcohol. These charges relate to their involvement in a house church gathering and consuming communion wine.
Six Christians, who were previously sentenced to a year in prison for crimes against the Islamic order, were due to stand trial for a further charge of blasphemy last month, but the hearing was adjourned twice to allow prosecutors more time to gather additional evidence.
Since June 2010, the arrests of 254 Christians in 33 Iranian cities have been confirmed; the actual number is thought to be much higher.