Pastor Hamid Pourmand of Bushehr, Iran
The church in Iran needs the powerful intercessory prayers of the saints worldwide
CONVERT FROM ISLAM ACQUITTED OF APOSTASY CHARGES - Could have faced death penalty
By Dan Wooding - Founder of ASSIST Ministries
BANDAR-I BUSHEHR, IRAN (ANS) -- Hamid Pourmand, a lay leader in the Assemblies of God church in Bandar-i Bushehr who converted to Christianity in 1980, has been acquitted of charges of apostasy and proselytizing.
"If found guilty he would have faced the death penalty," said a spokesperson for Middle East Concern (MEC), who has been monitoring the case. "He remains imprisoned for allegedly deceiving the Iranian army about his being a Christian."
Pourmand was arrested September 9, 2004, together with 85 other participants of the annual general conference of denomination. The other Christians were released within the next three days, but pastor Pourmand was charged with hiding his conversion from his superiors. According to Iranian law only Muslims can be officers in the army.
The Middle East Concern spokesperson went on to say, "On Saturday May 28th an Islamic judge in Bandar-I Bushehr, on Iran's Gulf coast, acquitted pastor Pourmand of charges of apostasy and proselytizing Muslims. Christian news agency Compass Direct has been told that the judge reportedly stated 'I don't know who you are, but the rest-of-the-world does,' a clear reference to the international attention that this case has attracted.'"
Pastor Pourmand was formally charged with apostasy from Islam and proselytizing Muslims in early April. Starting on April 13th He appeared before an Islamic court in Tehran every two or three days. He was repeatedly pressed to return to Islam. These hearings stopped after two weeks. He was transferred to his home town of Bandar-i Bushehr on the 16th May.
"On February 16th 2005 pastor Pourmand was found guilty of this charge despite presenting documents in court that proved his superior were aware he was a Christian before he was promoted to the officer ranks. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment and dishonorably discharged from the army with lost of his income, pension and housing for his family. However, the local authorities delayed evicting his wife and two teenage sons from their army provided housing until the end of the school year."
The spokesperson concluded by revealing that in the last 16 years three Iranian church leaders have been charged with apostasy.
"All were convicted and sentenced to death," they said. "Pastor Hussein Soodman was hanged in 1989. Deacon Maher had a noose round his neck when he signaled his willingness to recant and was released after signing a paper to that effect in 1992. Pastor Mehdi Dibaj was condemned to death in December 1993. He was released three weeks later after a strong international outcry; only to be found murdered six months later."
MEC is a co-operative effort by concerned Christians in the Middle East focusing on the need for Middle Eastern authorities to ensure the rights of all who choose to call themselves Christian.
Less than two weeks after secretive court proceedings began against the Protestant lay pastor, officials informed his lawyer and family that he was to be moved from Tehran's Evin Prison to his home city of Bandar-i Bushehr to stand trial for his life.
No indication was given as to when Pourmand would be transferred to one of several prisons in the southern port city.
Nor did officials specify when he would actually go on trial, facing the death penalty under the Islamic regime.s laws forbidding apostasy and proselytizing.
Second Trial for Pourmand
Pourmand, 47, was arrested by the Iranian security police last September for deserting Islam 25 years ago to become a Christian. A former colonel in the Iranian army, he was serving as lay pastor of an Assemblies of God congregation in Bandar-i Bushehr.
After five months in solitary confinement, he was convicted by a military court martial in mid February for "deceiving the Iranian armed forces" about his conversion; he was sentenced to three years in prison. Judges at the military tribunal declared the written evidence that his army superiors knew about his Christian faith to be "falsified documents".
Iran's Islamic law statutes forbid a non-Muslim to hold any position of authority over Muslims.
For the past two months, Pourmand has been jailed in Tehran in a group cell with a number of well-known political dissidents. He had lost nearly 40 pounds while undergoing interrogation in the first five months of strict isolation.
Legal Rights Ignored
"The prisons in Bandar-i Bushehr are terrible," one Iranian source commented. "By law, he should be allowed visitors once or twice a week. But in Iran, nobody pays any attention to the law".
According to rapporteurs of two working groups monitoring arbitrary detention and free expression in Iran under the auspices of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the Iranian judiciary routinely ignores the legal rights of citizens subjected to arrest and imprisonment.
"The rapporteurs have observed the use of arbitrary procedures by the judicial institutions violating the most basic rights of defendants, who are tried in secret hearings without a lawyer being present," declares the groups. report. They also noted "very harsh prison conditions, including long periods in solitary confinement, that are equivalent to torture".
Pourmand.s officer salary was suspended at the time of his arrest, with his entire pension cancelled after his military court conviction. Although court orders were issued immediately to evict his family from their army housing, local authorities in Bandar-i Bushehr have postponed the eviction of his wife and two teenage sons until the end of the current school term.
"Hamid's wife and sons feel very alone now," an Iranian source told Compass. "They are isolated, without any source of income, and no place to go when summer comes". Reportedly, local church leaders are under such government pressure that they do not dare to have any contact with her and the children.
(April 05, 2005)- Iranian Christian Hamid Pourmand must appear before the Islamic (sharia) court of Iran within nine days. An exact court date has not been released. Arrested September 2004 when security police raided a church conference he was attending, the Assemblies of God lay pastor will be brought up before the Islamic court between April 11 and 14 to face charges of apostasy from Islam and proselytizing Muslims to the Christian belief. Both "crimes" are punishable by death.
Pourmand, now 47, converted from Islam to Christianity nearly 25 years ago. He spent several months in solitary confinement after his arrest last September 9 2004, the only one of more than 80 church leaders arrested at the conference who was not released.
One of Iran's leading Protestant pastors was executed in December 1990 after a sharia court condemned him. Hussein Soodman, also an Assemblies of God pastor and a Muslim convert to Christianity, had been involved in Christian ministry for 24 years. He was reportedly hanged on December 3, 1990, as part of what was believed then to be a new wave of repression directed against the small Christian community in this Islamic Republic.
Pourmand, an army colonel at the time of his arrest, was found guilty by a military court on February 16 of "deceiving" the Iranian armed forces about his faith, despite evidence he produced to the contrary. According to the judge of the military court, his recent three-year sentence was given because Pourmand withheld from his superiors the information that he was a Christian. The Islamic regime in Iran has made it illegal for a non-Muslim citizen to serve as a military officer, since that puts him in a position of authority over Muslim soldiers.
The military court verdict is currently under appeal to the Supreme Court. But with the judiciary.s threat to try Pourmand before a sharia court of Islamic law now being carried out, he could face the death penalty.
Hope that Case Highlights Religious Intolerance
One Tehran source close to Pourmand.s case said he was hopeful that this judicial proof of religious intolerance in Iran would be highlighted during the annual six-week session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, convening now in Geneva.
The European Union (EU) lodged a formal protest with Iranian authorities last November over the arrests of Christians -- and in particular Christian pastors -- as an "infringement of the freedom of religion or belief".
Pourmand's verdict was labeled "a shocking travesty of justice, even by Iran's meager standards" by Nina Shea of Freedom House in Washington, D.C. His arrest was also noted in the latest report on human rights in Iran released in March by the U.S. State Department.
Hardship for Family
Transferred to a group prison cell at Tehran.s maximum-security Evin Prison after the February trial, Pourmand.s sentence automatically discharged him from the army, cutting off not only his regular income, but also eliminating nearly 20 years of military pension. Pourmand.s wife and two children were required to immediately vacate their home in military lodgings. "His family has nothing now," a source confirmed. "No salary, no house, nothing".
Pourmand and his wife Arlet, who is from an Assyrian Christian background, have two teenage sons, Immanuel and David. They were living in Bandar-i Bushehr, a southern port city where he served as volunteer lay pastor of a small Assemblies of God congregation. (Reported by Compass Direct)
Pastor Hamid Pourmand of Bushehr, Iran has been sentenced to 3 years in prison. He was found guilty of failing to confess he was a Christian while serving in the military. The documents which Pastor Pourmand presented proving the falseness of this claim were rejected by the courts. He has now apparently been moved to the infamous Evin Prison in Tehran. Besides spending 3 years in prison, Pastor Pourmand will be discharged from the armed forces, as well as forfeit his benefits.
Pastor Pourmand's troubles first began on September 9, 2004 when he, along with over 80 other Iranian church leaders, was arrested in Karaj, Iran during an annual nationwide church business meeting. While all others were released within days, Pastor Pourmand remained in prison.
Pastor Pourmand has been a Christian for over 25 years, and has always been very open about his faith. For most of this time he served with the Iranian Armed Forces, while more recently has has voluntarily served other Christians as a pastor.
Pastor Pourmand has faithfully served his country for years, but now is being held prisoner because of his faith in Christ. There is concern for his safety as the climate in Iran has not always beenconducive to the well being of Christians, occasionally ending in their martyrdom such as Bishop Haik Hovsepian, Pastor Mehdi Dibaj, Pastor Bagher Yusefi, and others.
Please remember to pray for Pastor Pourmand and for his safety and release. Pray also for his wife and two children as they cope with life in this new situation. Pray also that the church in Iran would have wisdom and boldness during this time. Pray for true religious freedom in Iran.
PS: Under Islamic law enforced in Iran, a Muslim who converts to Christianity faces the death penalty.
Reported by Compass Direct
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