TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Two more evangelical Iranian Christians faced uncertainty Saturday, September 6, after they were charged with the potentially death-sentence carrying crime of "Mofsed-e-filarz" translated as "spreading corruption on earth", Christian rights activists told BosNewsLife.
Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and fellow Christian Silas Rabbani, both from the Church of Iran movement, are the latest to be accused of “Mofsed-e-filarz”. Earlier BosNewsLife reported that Pastor Behnam Irani was prosecuted for the same crime as part of 18 new charges against him.
Pastor Haghnejad also faces charges of “Moharebeh”, or “enmity against Allah”.
Christians said the three men, who are being held in Ghezal Hesar Prison in Karaj city, have been pressured into confessing that they are “spies”.
Rights activists believe the arrests are part of a wider crackdown on spreading Christianity in the strict Islamic state.
Jason DeMars, director of advocacy group Present Truth Ministries, said authorities try to crackdown on converts as they "no longer obey the rules of Islam" but instead "want the freedom of Christ."
Missionaries say there may be at least 100,000 devoted evangelical Christians in the country, though other groups claim that number may be several times higher.
"There is particular concern about the safety of Pastor Haghnejad, who is believed to be in a “dangerous situation”, as the authorities appear to be targeting him actively," explained rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
It said the new charges against Pastor Matthias, Rabbani and Pastor Irani underscore "a worrying escalation in Iran’s campaign against converts to Christianity". Converts, many of whom are former Muslims, have been previously charged with “action against the state”, “action against the order” or other national security crimes.
“The new charges against Pastors Haghnejad and Irani and Mr. Rabbani are tantamount to an indictment of Christianity itself," said CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
He told BosNewsLife that "CSW is growing increasingly alarmed by what is a clear escalation in Iran's campaign against Persian Christians under the Rouhani presidency and by what is effectively an attempt to gain an apostasy conviction by other means."
The reported crackdown also comes amid a reported increase in executions under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani. At least eight men were already executed for "enmity against Allah" this year, including Ahwazi Arab community poet and cultural rights activist Hashem Shaabani and his colleague Hadi Rashedi.
Several detainees accused of the crime reportedly complained of having been "tortured" into making "false confessions", as well as being denied access to a lawyer and unfair trials conducted in the absence of witnesses.
Thomas said it was crucial "that the ongoing human rights crisis in the country is not neglected as members of the international community increasingly partner with Iran to counter the threat posed by [Islamic State militants] ISIS.”
CSW, he added, has urged Tehran "to drop the unwarranted charges against Pastors Haghnejad and Irani, and Rabbani, who have been unjustly detained on account of their faith and in contravention of international covenants to which Iran is party, that guarantee freedom of religion or belief."