Last updated: 22 January, 2013

Iranian court questions Christian in trial

A court in Tehran on Tuesday asked a lay Christian leader whether an Iranian-American pastor on trial assisted in his conversion, a group supporting the detained US citizen said.

Saeed Abedini, a naturalized US citizen who converted to Christianity, went on trial on Monday at a Tehran court on charges of plotting against state security, according to his lawyer.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a US-based conservative legal advocacy group that is supporting Abedini, said that Abedini was not allowed in the trial Tuesday and that the court heard testimony from a lay church leader.

“This individual was specifically questioned about converting to Christianity and whether Saeed encouraged the conversion to Christianity, which he did,” Jordan Sekulow, the center’s executive director, wrote on the group’s blog.

He said that authorities sought information about underground churches in the country and asked whether foreign funds were involved in an orphanage that Abedini’s family said he is building in northern Iran.

Abedini’s wife Naghmeh said that the lay Christian leader was told to expect a summons within a month, a development she charged contradicted accounts Monday from Iran that the pastor would be released soon on bail.

The lay leader’s testimony “is further proof that Iran was just trying to silence the media and has no intention of releasing my husband anytime soon. We need to continue exposing Iran’s violations of Saeed’s human rights until my husband is safely back in my arms,” she said in a statement.

Abedini has said her husband, with whom she has two children, has complied with a 2009 agreement — made after an earlier detention in Iran — not to engage in religious activities in the country, such as working with underground churches.

Iran’s constitution following the 1979 Islamic revolution recognizes the rights of several religious minorities including Christians, but the regime has targeted converted former Muslims.

The State Department has said that the United States has “serious concerns” about the case.