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Compass – Jailed 14 months ago for converting to Christianity, former Iranian army colonel Hamid Pourmand has been allowed to visit his family on a monthly basis since August.

Although the volunteer pastor continues to refuse to renounce Christianity, one source confirmed to Compass that prison authorities in Tehran are now granting Pourmand three days’ leave each month, apparently for good conduct.

Pourmand has reportedly developed good rapport with both guards and prisoners at Evin Prison, where his cellmates have included many of Iran ’s leading political dissidents, including journalist Akbar Ganji.

Despite earlier reports that Pourmand’s case had been appealed before the Iranian Supreme Court, sources now say that his lawyer has decided to drop the appeal out of fear that it would be perpetually delayed, giving authorities an excuse to keep the Christian in prison.

“Many political prisoners … are told that if they appeal, they will be sent back to prison or additional charges will be brought against them,” Human Rights Watch stated in a June 2004 report on the Iranian judiciary.

Pourmand’s lawyer hopes that the government may accept a petition to grant his client amnesty either on the anniversary of the Islamic revolution, February 11, or during the Iranian Now Ruz (new year) festivities on March 20.

Police arrested Pourmand in September 2004 during a raid of an Assemblies of God general conference in which a total of 86 Christians were taken into custody. All but Pourmand were released within four days.

The former colonel spent almost five months in solitary confinement before being tried by a military court in February. The tribunal found Pourmand guilty of deceiving the army about his religion, thereby breaking Iranian law, which does not allow a non-Muslim to hold a position of authority over a Muslim.

Pourmand produced documentation that the army had known about his conversion to Christianity, but the military court claimed that the documents were forged.

The military court sentenced Pourmand to three years in Tehran ’s Evin Prison. It remains unclear whether this includes the five months that he had already spent in prison.

Authorities also dishonorably discharged Pourmand from the army, cancelled his salary and, in violation of Iranian law, withdrew his 20-year accumulation of pension benefits.

Pourmand’s wife and two teenage sons were evicted from their residence on military property. With no steady source of income, Pourmand’s wife and younger son have moved in with her parents in Tehran , while the older son has gone abroad to pursue university studies.

Pourmand faced a second trial in May, when he was brought before a sharia (Islamic) court in his hometown of Bandar-i Bushehr on charges of apostasy. Under Iranian law, converting from Islam to another religion is punishable by death.

The former army colonel was cleared of the apostasy charges, which had received considerable coverage in both the Farsi and international press. Authorities immediately returned him to Tehran to complete his three-year jail sentence.

Local coverage of Pourmand’s case has reportedly swung public opinion in Iran in favor of the Christian convert. A letter that Pourmand’s son Immanuel received from a student in Iran related how a teacher had brought up the case during class.

“It’s not because he’s a bad person,” the teacher reportedly stated. “He’s in jail because he is a Christian.”

Despite positive public opinion and improved relations with prison guards, Pourmand’s time in prison has not always been easy.

“Prison authorities didn’t touch him [Pourmand] physically, but psychologically they have really tortured him,” one Iranian source told Compass. “Guards have several times told him to pack up his clothes because he was going to be hanged. At other times he was forced to listen to the screams of children.”

In spite of the conditions of his detention, Pourmand accepts that it is God’s will that he is in Evin Prison. And although Pourmand’s family is happy to have him home each month, they admit they are more worried for his safety at those times than while he is locked up in prison.

The murderers of four of Iran ’s leading Protestant pastors during the mid-1990s have never been brought to justice. One of the victims, convert Mehdi Dibaj, was killed six months after completing a nine-year jail term.