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Fears for health of Iranian pastor suffering harsh treatment in jail

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Iran

Concerns are growing for an imprisoned Iranian pastor whose health is deteriorating as a result of the regular beatings he has endured in one of the country’s most notorious jails.

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Behnam Irani (41), who is serving a six-year prison sentence, lost consciousness last week as a result of a bleeding ulcer. He has since regained consciousness, but his health is steadily declining. Behnam has difficulty walking because of the injuries he has sustained in regular beatings by other prisoners and guards, and he is starting to lose his eyesight; it is feared that he could die within the next few months.   

He began his sentence in Karaj’s Ghezel Hesar prison in May 2011, having been charged with “action against the state” and “action against the [Islamic] order”: pretexts for locking him up on account of his Christian faith and ministry; in the verdict issued against him, Behnam is described as an apostate, which refers to his leaving Islam, and it states that apostates “can be killed”. 

During his first few months in prison, he was subjected to psychological torture, being kept incommunicado in a small cell and repeatedly woken by guards. He was then moved to a room so cramped that the prisoners could not lie down, before being transferred to his current cell.

The father of two became a Christian in 1992 and a pastor ten years later. He has been arrested twice in connection with his house church activities.

House church leader freed

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Noorollah Qabitizade is now free
Image Source: Mohabat News

In more encouraging news, Noorollah Qabitizade, a house church leader from Dezful, was released from prison on 16 July, having spent nearly 19 months behind bars. 

He was arrested on 24 December 2010 along with ten other converts from Islam who had gathered to celebrate Christmas Eve. Noorollah (now 48) was handcuffed and blindfolded before being interrogated by intelligence officers.

This raid was part of a major crackdown on the Iranian house church movement at Christmas 2010 in which dozens of Christians across the country were rounded up. They were charged with apostasy, promoting Christianity, being in touch with Christian organisations and forming house churches.

During his time in prison, Noorollah was subjected to severe psychological torture and periods of solitary confinement in a bid to get him to deny Christ. At his trial in September 2011, Noorollah was told that he was going to be sentenced to death.

But he resisted pressure to renounce his faith and even tried to share the Gospel with other prisoners.

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