By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Friends of a detained Iranian pastor who faces the death penalty for "spreading corruption on earth" said Saturday, September 13, they would organize a day of "fasting and prayer" for him and other Iranian Christians.
"Pastor Behnam Irani is currently being held in Ghezal Hezar Prison in [the city of] Karaj" said Jason DeMars, the director of Present Truth Ministries group, who assists him with advocacy.
Irani is serving a six-year sentence for "crimes against national security", charges his friends have linked to his pastoral work for his evangelical 300-member Church of Iran congregation in Karaj, 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of capital Tehran.
In 2006 he was sentenced to a 5 year suspended sentence under condition he would cease his activities. "However, he continued his ministry and in April 2010 he was sentenced to a year in prison for the same [security] crime," DeMars told BosNewsLife. "He was later told he would also have to serve the five years from his 2006 conviction."
Half way through his six years of prison, he has reportedly expressed concern about another trial on charges of “Mofsed-e filarz” or "spreading corruption on earth", DeMars told BosNewsLife.
"If he is found guilty he will be sentenced to death. The Iranian government continues to violate his rights and prevent this man of God from being with his family and ministering to his church."
Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and fellow Christian Silas Rabbani, who are also from the Church of Iran movement, have also been accused of “Mofsed-e-filarz”.
Irani's trial is however already expected to start within a week, apparently adding to a sense of urgency among supporters.
"We are organizing a day of fasting and prayer for September 19, 2014," DeMars said. He said he has urged "pastors, churches and friends" to participate in the spiritual event.
Rights activists say the reported crackdown on devoted Christians in the strict Islamic nation comes amid an 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.
Iranian officials have expressed concern about the growing number of Muslims embracing the Christian faith, church groups say.
While estimates vary, missionaries claim the country has at least 100,000 evangelical Christians, many of whom gather in house churches.