Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
AHWAZ, IRAN (ANS) -- n Iranian Assembly of God pastor and three ministers have each been sentenced to a year in prison for preaching Christianity.
The four Christians, who had been arrested on Dec.23 2011 are the pastor of the Assembly of God church of Ahwaz, Farhad Sabokrouh, and his wife Shahnaz Jeizan, together with two other church ministers, Naser Zamen Dezfuli and Davoud Alijani.
Mohabat News, whose website is banned inside of Iran, reported the Revolutionary Court said their charges were, "Converting to Christianity, inviting Muslims to convert, as well as propagating against the Islamic regime through promoting evangelical Christianity."
Mohabat News said when their homes were searched, security authorities confiscated a number of personal items including their computers, books, cell phones, and DVD's, as well as sound equipment and musical instruments used at the church.
Mohabat News said this was an initial sentencing, and there is an opportunity to appeal. The verdict issues by that court will be final.
The news agency said that according to reports received by the news service, Sabokrouh is not to hold any sort of church service or visit Christians in Ahwaz while free on bail. In addition, authorities have told him to leave his hometown of Ahwaz and he and his family have been exiled to Tehran.
Events Leading Up to the Trial
Mohabat News said the church was raided on Dec. 23 2011 as church members had gathered for worship. Everyone there was arrested and transported by two buses to an undisclosed location.
It stated that security authorities covered their faces during the raid and even arrested terrified Sunday school children.
According to Mohabat News, everyone with the exception of the pastor, his wife and two of the church ministers was eventually released after interrogation, threats and the recording of their personal information. Those four detainees were transferred to a detention center for further interrogation. They were released on bail of about $165,000 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 21 of this year.
Mohabat News said the Assembly of God church is under the watchful eye of Iranian authorities, who are aware of every activity occurring at the church.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources told Mohabat News, "The reason behind this attack that interrupted Christmas celebration could be because church officials ignored warnings of the Ministry of Intelligence to the church."
The agency said there is some disagreement whether it is the Ministry of Intelligence or the Revolutionary Guard which oversees issues dealing with Iranian churches and Christians.
Mohabat News commented that harassment and discrimination against religious minorities have been major human rights violations in Iran during the last 30 years.
It added that harassment continues despite Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution which reads, "Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism are the only recognized non-Islamic religions, and their followers are free to practice their faith and perform their ceremonies within the limits of the law and act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education."