Five Iranian Christian converts who were detained late last year will reportedly begin trial in Iran’s Revolutionary Court this week, according to a human rights group following the case.
The five men were among seven arrested in October when security forces raided an underground house church in the city of Shiraz during a prayer session. They will be tried at the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz’s Fars Province on charges of disturbing public order, evangelizing, threatening national security and engaging in Internet activity that threatens the government, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a religious persecution watchdog group.
“Judging from recent cases, it is likely that, at the very least, those detained may face lengthy prison sentences,” said CSW spokesperson Kiri Kankhwende.
According to Kankhwende, the crackdown against Christian converts and house churches parallels a general increase in repression against many, including journalists, religious and cultural minorities and others as the government is leading up to June’s presidential elections.
The five imprisoned men, Mohammad Roghangir, Surush Saraie, Eskandar Rezaie, Shahin Lahooti and Massoud Rezaie are members of the Church of Iran denomination, one of the country's largest house church movements.
“There has been a noticeable increase in the harassment, arrests, trials and imprisonments of converts to Christianity, particularly since the beginning of 2012," Kankhwende said. "Any movement that differs from or offers an alternative to orthodox Shia Islam, and any persons who chooses to follow an alternative belief system, are interpreted as a challenge to the very state itself.”
The underground church network has been rapidly growing in Iran as a place where converts from Islam to Christianity can pray as they are forbidden to attend services at formal churches.........