Three Christian converts in Iran are appealing their sentences after they were charged earlier this month with "acting against national security" and consuming alcohol during Holy Communion.
According to World Watch Monitor, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie and Mohammad Reza Omidi, all from Muslim backgrounds, were arrested back in May after participating in Communion and sentenced to 80 lashes. The outlet notes that non-Muslims are permitted to drink alcohol in Iran, but leaving Islam is forbidden, so any such conversions are not recognized.
Mossayebzadeh, Fadaie and Omidi have also been arrested before, according to The Christian Times. The police once raided their homes in February 2015 and confiscated Christian CDs, Bibles, laptops and other literature. Omidi was one of four Christians sentenced to 80 lashes in 2013 for drinking alcohol during Holy Communion, and could face the death penalty if convicted again.
The Christian men are appealing their convictions later this month. However, all three could face up to six years in prison, as they were also charged with "acting against national security", alongside Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor once sentenced to death for apostasy.
WWM says the harsh sentencing of the Christians is just one example of the Iranian government's' brutal treatment of believers in the country. More than 200 Christians have been detained by Iranian authorities since 2015, and many remain in jail, while others have been released conditionally, pending sentencing or an appeal.
Iran is ranked by Open Doors USA as the ninth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution. Authorities in the Shia nation are widely known for their hostility towards Christians, prompting thousands of believers to worship secretly in house churches across the country.
At least 43 Christians were arrested in August alone, according to Middle East Concern's Rob Duncan: "The Iranian regime is conducting a very active campaign against house churches at the moment and leaders of house churches are harassed and put under pressure," he said.
Despite such persecution, the number of believers in Iran grew by a staggering 19.6 percent in 2015, and there are believed to be anywhere from 450,000 to 1 million Christians living in the country.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is actually the place in the world where the Church is growing the fastest, something that would be pretty surprising to most Christians," said Todd Nettleton from The Voice of the Martyrs.
"So it is a country that has worked very hard to eliminate Christianity, and particularly to eliminate Muslim conversion to Christianity. But it's the place in the world where the Church is growing the fastest."