TEHRAN, Iran — A Christian pastor in Iran who is already serving six years behind bars is facing the death penalty for ‘spreading corruption on Earth’ through his Christian witness and activities.
Behnam Irani, who leads the 300-member Church of Iran in Karaj, was initially detained in 2006 while holding a Bible study and sentenced to prison five years later for “action against the state.”
In June, he was interrogated on five occasions for four hours each. Authorities then added 18 new charges against the 41-year-old pastor, including Mofsed fel-Arz or “spreading corruption on Earth,” which carries the death penalty. Another translation of the charge is “enemies of God on Earth.”
Scholar John Esposito states that the term comes from the Koran and refers to “corrupt conditions, caused by unbelievers and unjust people, that threaten social and political well-being.”
“O Zul-Qarnain, Gog and Magog are corruptors of the Earth. Can we pay you to create a barrier between us and them?” it reads. “The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom.”
“The charges leveled against Pastor Irani and other Christians are tantamount to an indictment of Christianity itself and mark a renewed escalation in Iran’s campaign against Persian Christians under the Rouhani presidency,” said Mervyn Thomas, president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
According to reports, the Iranian government is cracking down harder on Christians under the rule of President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected last year.
“There are a lot of people who are disgruntled with the government and many for comfort and peace in their lives are turning to Christianity,” Jason DeMars, founder of Present Truth Ministries, told FoxNews about why the charges may have been leveled against Irani. “That’s a threat to the regime.”
Five Christians were also arrested this week in Isfahan, and their Bibles, computers and mobile phones were confiscated. Christians are stated make up less an half of one percent of the population, and many hold meetings underground to escape punishment.
As previously reported, the high-profile case of Youcef Nadarkhani made headlines in 2012 when he faced the death penalty in Iran on charges of apostasy against Islam. He first arrested in October 2009 for protesting against the Iranian government’s new policy to require all children to study the Koran. Nadarkhani was charged with apostasy and for attempted conversion of Muslims, and was incarcerated while proceedings went forward.
In 2011, the Iranian Supreme Court informed Nadarkhani that they would drop the charges if he converted to Islam. He refused, and remained imprisoned. He was released in September of the following year after outcry from a number of international groups, although some expressed concern about Nadarkhani’s beliefs, namely his rejection of the tripartite Godhead.