One Iranian Pastor Still Jailed

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Whereabouts of evangelical convert from Islam unknown.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, September 14 (Compass) -- Protestant church leaders in Iran learned this morning that one of 10 evangelical pastors reportedly released from detention by police authorities on September 12 is still being held incommunicado.

Assemblies of God Pastor Hamid Pourmand, 47, has not returned to his home in Bandar-i Bushehr, nor has he been in touch with any of his relatives or friends. He is presumed to remain under police arrest in the Karaj-Tehran area, where he was initially detained with other church leaders on September 9.

Eighty leaders of Iran’s Assemblies of God Church had convened for their annual general conference in Karaj when police swarmed into the church-owned center on the morning of September 9. All were blindfolded and taken away to be fingerprinted and interrogated. Although most were released by evening, the 10 pastors among them were held for questioning for four days. (See “Iranian Police Release 10 Evangelical Pastors,” September 13.)

When the other pastors were released separately late in the night of September 12, they were strictly warned not to contact one another or other members of the church. So it was not until this morning that the Assemblies of God leadership discovered that in fact Pourmand was still missing.

A former Muslim who converted to Christianity nearly 25 years ago, Pourmand pastors a congregation in Bandar-i Bushehr, along the Persian Gulf in southern Iran. He and his wife, who is of Assyrian Christian background, have two children.

Since the government-ordered execution of convert pastor Hussein Soodmand in Mashhad in December 1990, the Islamic Republic of Iran has enacted a harsh crackdown against the country’s evangelical churches and various house-church movements accused of evangelizing Muslims.

Another long-term convert to Christianity, Assemblies of God pastor Mehdi Dibaj was murdered in July 1994. After being jailed for nine years for refusing to recant his Christian faith and return to Islam, Dibaj was killed just six months after his release from prison.

Two years later, the body of Pastor Mohammed Bagher Yusefi was found hanging in the forest near his home in Sari, in northern Iran’s Mazandaran province. Survived by his wife and two children, 34-year-old Yusefi had converted to Christianity 10 years earlier.

Over the past decade, local Protestant congregations who allow Muslims to visit their services or are suspected of baptizing former Muslims converting to Christianity have been harshly suppressed by the Iranian authorities.

“Government actions create a threatening atmosphere for some religious minorities,” last year’s U.S. State Department report on religious freedom in Iran declared, “especially Baha’is, Jews and evangelical Christians.”