Iranian Pastor Moved to Military Prison

Monday, November 15, 2004

Fears mount for jailed Christian convert.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, November 15 (Compass) -- Iranian authorities moved Christian prisoner Hamid Pourmand to a military prison last week, deepening fears throughout the evangelical community for the safety of the Protestant pastor jailed nine weeks ago.

Local sources have confirmed that Pourmand was told in late October that he would be released within just a few days. But he remained under detention at an unknown location until a few days ago, when he was transferred to a military jail.

No known charges have been filed against Pourmand, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity nearly 25 years ago. Married with two children, he is a colonel in the Iranian army.

Although Pourmand was allowed one short telephone call to his wife three weeks after his arrest, security police have since refused to permit him any other contact with his family or friends.

“He has been pressured a lot psychologically,” one Iranian Christian told Compass, “but we do not know for sure how he has been treated physically.” The source said Pourmand’s family remains very worried about him, after more than two months of detention incommunicado.

Pourmand, 47, has been incarcerated since September 9, when he was arrested with 85 other pastors and leaders of the Assemblies of God Church during their annual general conference in Karaj, near Tehran. Most of the detainees were released by the end of the day, although Pourmand and nine other pastors were held for four days of interrogation before the others were set free.

Pourmand was serving as lay pastor of a congregation in Bandar-i Bushehr, a port city on the Persian Gulf in southern Iran.

During his family’s absence in the days following his arrest, Pourmand’s home was broken into and searched, with all of the family’s papers and photographs removed.

In recent months, prominent government officials have repeatedly denounced “foreign religions,” which they accuse of threatening Iran’s national security.

In April, one Shiite cleric in the Ministry of Education declared publicly that an average of 50 Iranian young people were known to “convert secretly to Christian denominations” every day.

Dozens of evangelical Christians were arrested in a crackdown against house churches in the provinces of northern Iran in May, including one pastor detained with his wife and children. After several weeks of harsh mistreatment and interrogations, all were eventually released after being ordered to stop evangelizing and meeting for worship. They reportedly remain under close police surveillance.

In Iran’s Islamic courts, a Muslim convicted of apostasy is subject to the death penalty. Since the 1976 Islamic revolution, a number of ex-Muslims who converted to Christianity have been covertly assassinated or executed by court order, under the guise of spying for foreign countries.