Jailed Iranian Christian Pressured to Return to Islam

Monday, August 15, 2005

Convert pastor allowed two prison leaves since June.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, August 15 (Compass) -- Eleven months after Iranian police arrested Hamid Pourmand for converting to Christianity, authorities at Tehran’s Evin Prison continue to pressure the former Muslim to return to Islam.

Pourmand, now 48, remains incarcerated with other prisoners of conscience in the political ward at Evin, where he faces at least two more years in jail for his conversion.

According to the former army colonel’s family, Pourmand has not been subjected to any physical mistreatment since late May, when he was acquitted of apostasy charges before an Islamic court in the southern port city of Bandar-i Bushehr. (See Compass Direct, “Islamic Court Acquits Iranian Christian,” May 30.) But he remains under verbal pressure from Tehran prison officials to recant his Christian faith.

The lay pastor is serving a three-year military court sentence for “deceiving the Iranian armed forces” by allegedly concealing his conversion to Christianity 25 years ago. Iranian law forbids non-Muslims from holding positions as officers over Muslims in the armed forces.

Compass confirmed this week that Pourmand was allowed two official prison leaves since the end of June. Reportedly a 10-day leave was granted in July to allow him to gather up defense documents related to his court martial case, followed by a three-day leave for “good behavior” in the first week of August.

“His family was very grateful for these days together,” a source in touch with them told Compass. Pourmand’s Assyrian Christian wife Arlet and their younger son David are living in Tehran, where they have no regular source of income apart from the support of various Christians.

The couple’s 18-year-old son Immanuel, who left Iran and went abroad several months ago to study dentistry, spoke earlier this week by telephone with his father.

“He told me to never say to God, ‘I have big problems,’” Immanuel said. “Instead, I should say to my problems, ‘I have a big God.’”

Since January of this year various religious and other advocacy groups have begun a wave of letter-writing campaigns to protest Pourmand’s imprisonment to Iranian government officials. In apparent response to diplomatic inquiries from the European Union and various United Nations agencies, the jailed Christian is now receiving letters and cards addressed to him at Evin Prison.

Pourmand was arrested last September when Iranian security police raided a church conference he was attending near Tehran. A career army officer, he was also serving as lay pastor for the Assemblies of God congregation in Bandar-i Bushehr.

After five months under interrogation in strict solitary confinement, Pourmand was tried in February before a military tribunal and found guilty, despite documented proof of his innocence. He was dishonorably discharged from the military, with his salary and all pension benefits cancelled.

In a subsequent Islamic court trial on charges of apostasy and proselytizing on May 28, the judge acquitted Pourmand in a single hearing. Conviction of apostasy carries the death penalty under Iran’s strict interpretation of Islamic law.

It is not clear whether Pourmand’s military conviction can be appealed, nor whether his initial months spent incommunicado under police interrogation will be subtracted from his three-year prison sentence.

Copyright 2005 Compass Direct