By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
SURREY, ENGLAND (ANS) -- According to a British based human rights organization, Iranian Pastor Behnam Irani is being held in solitary confinement and is facing 18 new charges.
They include "Mofsed-e-filarz," translated as "spreading corruption on earth," a capital offense.
According to a news release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the charge is similar to "Moharabeh," "warring against God," recently leveled against another Christian, Pastor Matthias Haghnejad. That can also result in capital punishment.
Irani was initially arrested in Dec. 2006, and sentenced in 2011 to six years imprisonment for "action against the state," and "action against the order."
Irani was removed from prison in June, and temporarily held in solitary confinement in a VEVAK (Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security) detention center, where he was interrogated on five occasions for four hours each time.
CSW said he was warned that if he did not obey VEVAK, he would receive an additional sentence, and remain in prison for a longer time.
The new charges appear to be part of a surge in repression under the Rouhani presidency targeting religious and ethnic minorities.
There is growing concern for Assemblies of God leader Farshid Fathi, who was transferred unexpectedly on Aug. 19 from Evin Prison in Tehran to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj.
He is in a ward with murderers and drug addicts, where narcotics are used openly and fighting between inmates occurs regularly.
CSW said the organization has also received reports that this week, at least five Christians were arrested in Isfahan, central Iran.
Bibles, computers and mobile phones belonging to Mohammad Taslimi, Hamidreza Borhani and his wife Zainab Akbari, Moluk Ruhani and her sister, named only as Sepideh, were confiscated at the time of their arrest.
CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in the news release, "We are deeply concerned by the new charges against Pastor Irani, especially the charge of spreading corruption on earth, which bears unsettling similarities to the one faced by Pastor Matthias. Such charges are tantamount to an indictment of Christianity itself, and mark a renewed escalation in Iran's campaign against Persian Christians under the Rouhani presidency."
He added, "It is also deplorable that a prisoner of conscience like Farshid Fathi is currently held with hardened criminals. We urge the Iranian government to transfer him to an appropriate ward as a matter of urgency and put it on notice that it will be held accountable for his safety."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.