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( Middle East Concern) – Christians in Iran have learned that Hamid Pourmand, a lay leader in a church and a convert from Islam, will appear before an Islamic court next week to face charges of apostasy. If found guilty he is likely to face the death penalty.

Yesterday, April 4, Christians learned that pastor Pourmand is scheduled to appear before an Islamic court within the next 10 days. No specific date was given. Pastor Pourmand is a lay leader in the Assemblies of God church in Bandar-i Bushehr and converted to Christianity in 1980. At the time of his arrest he was a Colonel in the Iranian army.

He was arrested September 9, 2004, together with 85 other participants of the annual general conference of denomination. The other Christians were released within the next three days, but pastor Pourmand was charged with hiding his conversion from his superiors. According to Iranian law only Muslims can be officers in the army.

On February 16, 2005, pastor Pourmand was found guilty of this charge, even though he presented several papers in court which proved his superior were aware he was a Christian. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment, discharge from the army, and loss of his entire income, pension and housing for his family. A few days later his wife and two children were forced to vacate their house.

Yesterday, Christians learned of the new charges of apostasy from Islam and proselytising other Muslims. Apostasy is a capital offence in Iran . In the last 16 years 3 Iranian church leaders have been charged was apostasy and found guilty. All three were sentenced to death. Pastor Hussein Soodman was hanged in 1989. Deacon Maher already had a noose around his neck when he signalled his willingness to recant and was released after signing a paper to that effect in 1992. Pastor Mehdi Dibaj was condemned to death in December 1993. He was released three weeks later after a strong international outcry; only to be found murdered 6 months later.

Christians in Iran have expressed great fears for pastor Hamid’s life.