By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent
TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News)-- Eight Iranian Christians received long sentences Tuesday after being convicted of "action against the national security," a bogus charge often used against Muslim converts to Christianity, according to Morning Star News.
However, Iranian Christian leaders denied that they or their church had any involvement in subversive activity.
"While individual Christians are entitled to hold political opinions, the church does not. These charges are entirely without foundation ... However, as loyal citizens we will continue to pray for our leaders and for peace and reconciliation in our nation," said the National Council of the Church of Iran in a recently released statement.
All eight members of the Church of Iran were sentenced in Shiraz: Mohammad Roghangir was sentenced to six years; Massoud Rezaie, five years; Mehdi Ameruni and Bijan Farokhpour Haghighi, three years each; Shahin Lahooti and Suroush Saraie, two-and-half years each and Eskandar Rezaie and Roxana Forughi to one year each in prison.
Most of the converts were arrested during a raid of an evening prayer service last October and all were detained at Plaque 100, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s detention center; they were only released after paying exorbitant bail amounts -- between $80,000 and $200,000 (USD) -- that caused financial hardships to their families and fellow congregants.
As Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that protects the freedom of belief for all religious minorities, Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas called for the unconditional release of the eight converts.
"It is both disappointing and deplorable that the Iranian regime persists in detaining religious minorities on political charges, as has occurred once again in this case," Thomas said in a press release. "These Christians in no way constitute a threat to the state."
CSW Press Officer Kiri Kankhwende told Morning Star News that it was not uncommon for theocratic states to subject religious minorities to political charges since their beliefs are considered a threat to its status quo.