Three Christians have been sentenced to 80 lashes by a Sharia court in Iran after they were found guilty of blasphemy for drinking holy communion wine.
The three men, Yaser Mosibzadeh, Saheb Fadayee and Mohammed Reza Omidi, also known as Youhan, are Christian converts from Muslim backgrounds and will have to face the cruel and degrading punishment after they were found guilty by Islamist judges.
After their arrest by security agents at a house church gathering in Rasht, in the home of their pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani and his wife, Fatemeh Pasandideh, in May, the trio spent weeks in prison before they were finally released on bail.
They are due to be flogged in public at a later date and the sentence reflects Iran’s hard-line refusal to recognise the right of Muslims to change their religion following the Sharia law.
It is not illegal for Christians to drink alcohol in Iran but under Islamic law, Muslims are forbidden from drinking and it is illegal for Muslims to convert.
Iran stepped up its crackdown on Christian activists in 2015, and at least 108 Christians have been rounded up by police in the last year alone, with as many as ninety prisoners currently languishing in jail for their faith.
According to Christian charity Release International, many Christian prisoners have been beaten and abused, and some have been threatened with death.
Chief Executive of Release International, Paul Robinson has condemned the punishments questioning Iran’s refusal to allow its own citizens the most basic of all freedoms, the freedom to choose their own faith. He called for the state to respect any man’s choice of faith.
The rest of Iran’s population is made up of about 90 percent Shia Muslims, while nine percent are Sunni Muslim.