Iranian authorities abandoned preliminary hearings against Christian convert Hamid Pourmand before an Islamic sharia court in Tehran last week, apparently after news of his trial leaked out to the international press.
Less than two weeks after secretive court proceedings began against the Protestant lay pastor, officials informed his lawyer and family that he was to be moved from Tehran's Evin Prison to his home city of Bandar-i Bushehr to stand trial for his life.
No indication was given as to when Pourmand would be transferred to one of several prisons in the southern port city.
Nor did officials specify when he would actually go on trial, facing the death penalty under the Islamic regime's laws forbidding apostasy and proselytizing.
Pourmand, 47, was arrested by the Iranian security police last September for deserting Islam 25 years ago to become a Christian. A former colonel in the Iranian army, he was serving as lay pastor of an Assemblies of God congregation in Bandar-i Bushehr.
After five months in solitary confinement, he was convicted by a military court martial in mid February for "deceiving the Iranian armed forces" about his conversion; he was sentenced to three years in prison. Judges at the military tribunal declared the written evidence that his army superiors knew about his Christian faith to be "falsified documents."
Iran's Islamic law statutes forbid a non-Muslim to hold any position of authority over Muslims.
For the past two months, Pourmand has been jailed in Tehran in a group cell with a number of well-known political dissidents. He had lost nearly 40 pounds while undergoing interrogation in the first five months of strict isolation.
"The prisons in Bandar-i Bushehr are terrible," one Iranian source commented. "By law, he should be allowed visitors once or twice a week. But in Iran, nobody pays any attention to the law."
According to rapporteurs of two working groups monitoring arbitrary detention and free expression in Iran under the auspices of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the Iranian judiciary routinely ignores the legal rights of citizens subjected to arrest and imprisonment.
"The rapporteurs have observed the use of arbitrary procedures by the judicial institutions violating the most basic rights of defendants, who are tried in secret hearings without a lawyer being present," declares the groups' report. They also noted "very harsh prison conditions, including long periods in solitary confinement, that are equivalent to torture."
Pourmand's officer salary was suspended at the time of his arrest, with his entire pension cancelled after his military court conviction. Although court orders were issued immediately to evict his family from their army housing, local authorities in Bandar-i Bushehr have postponed the eviction of his wife and two teenage sons until the end of the current school term.
"Hamid's wife and sons feel very alone now," an Iranian source told Compass. "They are isolated, without any source of income, and no place to go when summer comes." Reportedly, local church leaders are under such government pressure that they do not dare to have any contact with her and the children.
Copyright 2005 Compass Direct
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