Concern mounts over Christian pastors in Iranian prisons

Originally published in The Baptist Times

A British charity has expressed its concern over the deteriorating health of a pastor imprisoned in Iran.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has learned that Pastor Benham Irani, currently held in Ghezal Hesar prison in Iran, is now unable to walk and that medical assistance continues to be withheld.

Pastor Irani has been losing weight for several months and has been unable to walk for the last week due to acute back pain. The pastor has trouble with his vision and last year suffered severe bleeding due to stomach ulcers and complications with his colon, which caused him to lose consciousness at one point. He was given tablets to stop the bleeding, but was denied further medical attention.

There are concerns that given his critical condition, the pastor may die unless he receives appropriate medical treatment.
Benham Irani pastors the Church of Iran congregation in Karaj. He was arrested in December 2006, and sentenced to six years imprisonment on charges of ‘action against the state’ and ‘action against the order’. The verdict against him includes text that describes Pastor Irani as an apostate and reiterates that apostates ‘can be killed’.

Increasingly, the official charges brought against Iranian Christians are couched in political language, when in reality they are being arrested on account of their religion. As a prisoner convicted of political charges, Pastor Irani has no access to medical furlough or cultural activities, is subjected to regular inspections, and can only see his family once a fortnight.

CSW’s chief executive Mervyn Thomas said, ‘CSW remains deeply concerned at reports of Pastor Irani’s declining health and we reiterate our call for the Iranian authorities to allow Pastor Irani to access appropriate medical treatment without further delay.

‘CSW also urges the Iranian government to honour its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and facilitate Pastor Irani’s unconditional release, along with all others currently detained or facing execution on account of their faith following flawed judicial processes.’

Meanwhile a campaign to save another pastor imprisoned in Iran is growing. Saeed Abedini is a US citizen who was given an eight year prison term last year.

The American Centre for Law and Justice is campaigning for his release and set a target of 300,000 signatures on a petition ahead of a meeting with the United Nations on 5 March. The petition currently carries more than 400,000 names. The court convicted him of endangering national security, but the ACLJ it was because Mr Abedini has helped many Christians in underground churches in Iran since his conversion to Christianity.

He married an American wife and was working on an orphanage when he was arrested last September.

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