Behnam Irani, Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad and Silas Rabbani were brought to court at the 1st Branch of the Revolutionary Tribunal in Karaj on 30 September. Sources inside Iran state that the charges of “spreading corruption on Earth”, which carries the death penalty, appear to have been dropped. All three men are pastors in the Church of Iran (see below).
Instead, the three pastors were tried for “action against national security” and “creating a network to overthrow the System”. The men now await a verdict from Judge Asel Al-Hosseyn, who tried their cases.
The dropping of the capital charges against the three Christians comes a week after a 37-year-old Muslim man, Mohsen Amir-Aslani, was executed for “spreading corruption on Earth” and heresy after describing the story of Jonah as an allegory. According to local sources, the Head of the Judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, disregarded a Supreme Court decision to release him after the trial judge appealed for the death penalty to be carried out.
The three pastors are being held in separate cells in Ghezal-Hesar Prison in Karaj, and have been pressurised to make false confessions that they are spies. Behnam Irani is halfway through a six-year prison term imposed for leading church services. He has been in poor health during his time in prison and was taken to hospital in February 2014 where he had successful abdominal surgery.
Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad was arrested during a raid on his home in July. He has a longstanding history of arrests because of his faith, dating back to 2006, and has faced numerous charges including actions against national security, blasphemy and propaganda against the state (for drinking communion wine).
Silas Rabbani has been in custody since May. His home was one of several Christian leaders’ homes raided by VEVAK (Iran’s secret police) in December 2013. His laptop computer and all Christian materials including Bibles, New Testaments, printed sermons and booklets were taken from his home. At that time, VEVAK officials threatened him with long prison sentences because of his Christian ministry.
THE CHURCH OF IRAN
The Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News has reported that members of the Church of Iran network are non-Trinitarian and that they believe in baptismal regeneration, salvation by works and that speaking in tongues is the main sign of salvation.
The organisation Present Truth Ministries, which supports pastors and evangelists in the Middle East, asserts that members of the Church of Iran believe that salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, and that they preach the Gospel and are leading people to salvation in Christ. In the opinion of Present Truth Ministries, the Church of Iran rejects the teaching of baptismal regeneration and of tongues being the necessary evidence of the Holy Spirit.
While the Church of Iran is not aligned with mainstream evangelical churches, the fact remains that its members (like Behnam, Abdolreza and Silas) are suffering persecution because they follow, and refuse to deny, the Lord Jesus Christ. The most well-known member of the Church of Iran is Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who was released from prison in September 2012 after three years of imprisonment during which he was sentenced to death for apostasy and refused to recant his Christian faith on three separate occasions.