11/16/2004, 00.00
IRAN
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Death penalty creeps closer to Protestant clergyman jailed in Iran

Moved to a military prison, he might be sentenced on "espionage" charges.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Compass) – Chances that Hamid Pourmand—a Protestant convert from Islam—will be sentenced to death are growing. Iranian authorities moved him to a military prison. If tried by a military tribunal, Pourmand (see photo) could be charged with "espionage" and face the death penalty. 

Married with two children, the 47-year-old was arrested on September 9 in Karaj, a town 30 km west of the capital Tehran in a police raid against the annual General Council of the Assemblies of God Church.

Born a Muslim, Rev Pourmand converted to Christianity 25 years ago. He is a colonel in the Iranian army based in the city of Bandar-i Bushehr (380 km south of Tehran). His conversion alone—which a friend said he never kept secret—is ground for the death penalty for, under Islamic law, apostasy is a capital crime.

In recent months, government officials have repeatedly denounced "foreign religions", which they accuse of threatening national security. Several former Muslims who converted to Christianity have been executed by court order on "espionage" charges.

There are about 360,000 Christians in Iran out of a population of 65 million. Of these, 25,000 are Catholics.

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