By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Iranian Christians are “thankful” that Iran has released two jailed Christians on bail but remain concerned about the whereabouts of their friend, Worthy News established Wednesday.
Morteza Mashhoudkari,38, and Ahmad Sarparast, 28, were freed from prison Tuesday after paying 400 million tomans in bail (about $15000), trial observers said.
However, their friend Ayoub Poor-Rezazade is apparently still held by authorities. The Christian’s “location is still unknown,” confirmed advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
The three men are believed to have been held by Iran’s Islamic authorities on charges linked to their Christian faith and Christian activities.
“Charges against them are not clear at this point, but in court, the recently amended penal code Articles 499 and 500 were mentioned,” MEC explained.
Article 499 seeks jail terms and fines for insulting “divine religions or Islamic schools of thought recognized under the Constitution with the intent to cause violence or tensions in the society.” Article 500 punishes “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam,” experts say.
The three men accused of violating these Islamic regulations were detained in the coastal city of Rasht on September 5 and taken to security offices for interrogation, Christian’s said.
On Saturday, Mashhoudkari and Sarparas were transferred to Lakan Prison in Rasht, according to Christians familiar with their case.
Iranian intelligence reportedly informed Poor-Rezazade’s family that he had been taken to the same prison facility, but his fellow believers said he wasn’t there. “His present location is still unknown to Ayoub’s family and friends,” MEC told Worthy News.
In published remarks, Iranian Christians said while being “thankful for the release of Morteza and Ahmad,” they requested “prayer that the situation of Ayoub will quickly become known.”
Christians also pray that his “family and friends will be relieved of worry” and that all will have the necessary legal support” and that “any charges linked to their faith will be dropped.
In the statement released by MEC, Iranian Christians also appealed for prayers that “Iran will cease persecuting Christian converts and other religious communities.”
It comes amid international concerns about the plight of the estimated 800,000 Christians in Iran, a strict Islamic nation of some 84 million people.
“The Iranian government sees the conversion of Muslims to Christianity as an attempt by Western countries to undermine the Islamic rule of Iran,” said Christian watchdog Open Doors.
“Christians from a Muslim background are persecuted the most, primarily by the government, but also by their families and communities,” it added.
The group, which supports persecuted Christians, said that “Secret churches are often raided.” In addition, “their leaders and members have been arrested and given long prison sentences for “crimes against national security” among other charges, Open Doors said.
It ranks Iran number 8 on its annual World Watch List of 50 nations where it says Christians suffer most for their faith in Christ. Concerns about minority Christians are growing under President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric and ally of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed as Supreme Leader for life in June 1989.
President Raisi won this year’s election against conservative candidates, as reform supporters were barred from participating. His task to improve Iran’s economy is undermined by his hostility towards the United States, which imposed crippling sanctions on the country, critics say.