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Iranian Christian Hamid Pourmand, a former Muslim, faces possible execution, the first religiously motivated death sentence in Iran since 1990. Authorities said Pourmand was scheduled to appear before the Islamic court of Iran in Tehran, but they ordered him moved to stand trial in Bandar-i Bushehr, his hometown.

Arrested last September when security police raided a church conference he was attending, the Assemblies of God lay pastor faces charges of apostasy from Islam and of proselytizing Muslims. Both "crimes" are punishable by death.

Pourmand, 47, converted from Islam to Christianity nearly 25 years ago. He spent several months in solitary confinement after his arrest last September 9, the only one of 86 church leaders arrested at the conference who was not released.

The former army colonel was found guilty of deceiving the Iranian armed forces by not declaring when he became an officer that he was a convert to Christianity. Under the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is illegal for a non-Muslim to serve in a position of authority over Muslim soldiers. Pourmand received a three-year sentence, now under appeal.

One Tehran source said he hoped this case would be highlighted during the annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, convening in Geneva.

The European Union 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."

Nina Shea of Freedom House in Washington labeled Pourmand's verdict "a shocking travesty of justice, even by Iran's meager standards."

Related Elsewhere:

Compass Direct's full coverage of the Hamid Pourmand trial includes:

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June 2005

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