Shockingly, Tehran officials arrested Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie and Mohammad Reza Omidi, along with Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and his wife, and charged them with “acting against national security” for taking part in a “Christian ritual”. The pastor and his wife have since been released, but the three converts remain behind bars. They are due to appear in court next week, and if found guilty, face punishment by flogging.
Sacramental wine is used when receiving Holy Communion, along with small wafers, known as Sacramental Bread. As such, it is used by billions of Christians worldwide in celebration of the Eucharist. However, drinking alcohol in Iran is forbidden under the country’s strict Sharia law.
Elaheh Azimfar, of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), says that the Christians may be flogged at a police station if found guilty of any crime. A three foot long whip is usually used to punish offenders, who are likely to be sentenced to anywhere from 10 lashes to 100 lashes across the back.
Humanitarian Groups have spoken out against the use of the corporal punishment, saying that the penalty amounts to torture. Last year, Amnesty International said that courts in Iran “continued to impose, and the authorities continued to carry out, punishments that violate the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. These were sometimes carried out in public and included flogging, blinding and amputations.”
Also punishable by flogging in Iran is adultery, kissing in public, homosexual acts, and blasphemy.
Elaheh Azimfar, of the NCRI, condemned the punishment, saying, “Iran’s regime continues to hand down brutal punishments such as flogging under the banner of Islam; whereas in reality this is a medieval punishment that has nothing to do with Islam.” Ms. Azimfar added, “Only a few months ago the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the German Foreign Ministry condemned the regime for flogging a group of students that had attended a graduation party. However the regime’s officials continue to carry out this brutal practice,” and she continued, “This brutal punishment will have no place in the free Iran of tomorrow. These are not laws or justice; they are sheer brutalities.”
The regime has recently clamped down on underground churches, and the arrests and potential conviction of Christians increases, but they are not alone. Since President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013 the number of people jailed for their religious beliefs has increased, such as the 500 people who were arrested, 480 of whom were tried and convicted within 24 hours, for publicly breaking their fast during Ramadan. The Deputy Prosecutor General in Shiraz announced that most received flogging sentences, administered by the Office for Implementation of Sentences.
The advocacy charity, Open Doors, said, “While those considered ethnic Christians, such as Armenians or Assyrians, are allowed to practise their faith amongst themselves, ethnic Persians are defined as Muslim, and any Christian activity in Farsi is illegal.”
“Underground churches are increasingly monitored, which makes some afraid to attend, and at least 108 Christians were arrested in the last year. Interrogation methods in prison can be harsh and sexually abusive.”