After months of pleas, a judge has granted permission for a Christian prisoner in Iran to receive critically needed surgery to stop internal bleeding.
But the judge also ordered the inmate, Vahid Hakkani, to add the time he spends in the hospital to his prison term.
The Barnabas Fund, the worldwide Christian organization that serves the persecuted church, reported Hakkani was arrested in February 2012 at a house church gathering along with a number of other Christians. The Christians were accused of participating in house church services, evangelizing and promoting Christianity, as well as having contact with foreign Christian groups and “disturbing national security.”
Hakkani was given three years and eights months in prison. He suffered from internal bleeding, and his condition deteriorated during his time in detention.
He had been told by prison doctors he urgently needed surgery, but prison officials delayed approving his transfer to a hospital.
Finally, a two-month leave permit was granted by a judge, Barnabas Fund reported, on the condition that he post bail of about $70,000 and then make up the time he misses while in the hospital.
Hakkani has been held in a prison ward dedicated to prisoners of conscience, “many of whom are suffering physical and mental health problems as a result of the poor conditions in which they are held,” Barnabas Fund reported.
Christianity began to spread in Iran, formerly Persia, shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and by A. D. 642, when Arab Muslims overran the country, 25 percent of the population was Christian. Today, the number is estimated at less than 1 percent.
Shia Islam is the state religion.
“Persecution against Christians has increased in Iran in recent years to a point not seen since the early days of the Islamic revolution more than 30 years ago,” the ministry reports. “Iranian authorities, concerned at the number of Iranian Muslims turning to Christ, have significantly increased the number of raids on church services, the harassment and threatening of church members, and the arrest and imprisonment of worshipers and church leaders. Even historic Christian groups recognized under Iran’s constitution face more instances of discrimination and detention. Political and religious leaders have also made even more virulent and inflammatory statements against Christians.”
Iranian judges draw on Islamic law, which prescribes death for leaving Islam. While the last official execution for “apostasy” was in 1990, several Christian converts from Islam who had been charged with apostasy were found murdered after their release, Barnabas said.
Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American arrested for his Christian work in Iran, has been in the news. U.S. officials have called on Iran to release him, without results.