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Feb 19 2005
Iran Imprisons Christian Pastor

Iran imprisons Christian pastor

Convicted of not declaring conversion from Islam


Posted: February 18, 2005

4:29 p.m. Eastern


A U.S. human-rights group is protesting Iran's imprisonment of an Iranian pastor and former army colonel convicted of not declaring his conversion from Islam to Christianity before he was promoted to the rank of officer.

A Tehran military court sentenced Hamid Pourmand, 47, to three years in jail Thursday, the maximum penalty, according to a report from the U.S.-based Christian news service Compass Direct.

The Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House in Washington has called on the Iranian government to immediately release him.

"This is a shocking travesty of justice, even by Iran's meager standards," said the center's director, Nina Shea. "Hamid Pourmand is serving hard prison time for peacefully exercising his right to free conscience under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Shea said the fact Pourmand "changed his religion before the revolutionary Islamic regime came to power and has documents showing that he openly lived a Christian life the past quarter century did not protect him from the ideology of hatred against other religions, including other Muslim interpretations, that underpins the Iranian judiciary."

Pourmand is facing attempts to have him tried in an Islamic sharia court, where under charges of apostasy and proselytizing he could face the death penalty, Compass Direct said.

His lawyer plans to appeal the verdict.

The center said it's unclear whether his sentence will take into account the more than five months he already has served in an isolation cell since his arrest on Sept. 9.

The court ordered his immediate transfer to a group cell in Tehran's Evin Prison, which human rights groups have criticized for deplorable conditions and use of torture.

The conviction also brought an automatic dishonorable discharge from the military that stripped Pourmand of his family housing, salary and pension from nearly 20 years of service.

Pourmand, a volunteer lay pastor of a small Assemblies of God church in the southern port city of Bandar-i-Bushehr, became a Christian nearly 25 years ago, Compass Direct said.

The court rejected evidence Pourmand's military superiors recognized several years ago that he was a Christian and even had given him exemptions from participating in Muslim fasts.

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