Three Iranian converts to Christianity face the possibility of being sentenced to 80 lashes, simply for taking communion. They have been charged with alcohol consumption, which is illegal in Iran for Muslims. Although all those charged are Christian believers, their conversion from Islam is not recognised by the Iranian authorities and Christians have previously been flogged for the same offence.
Middle East Concern reports that the three converts charged with drinking alcohol have also been charged with “action against national security”, along with the pastor of their church; at the time of writing, the outcome of their court hearing on 10 September is pending. The pastor of the house church has been arrested on multiple occasions and church meetings have been repeatedly raided by agents of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.
Drinking alcohol is what is termed in Islam a hudud crime (i.e. one of six crimes where the Quran sets out a specific punishment), with any Muslim found guilty given 40 lashes (or more, depending which school of sharia is followed). Other specific punishments for committing a hudud crime include amputation of the hand for theft (for a first offence), death by stoning for adultery, and 80 lashes for false accusation of adultery or fornication.
House churches in Iran are routinely targeted by the authorities and church leaders and converts to Christianity are fiercely persecuted. The families of the five converts arrested in late August are still unsure where they are being held and they have not been officially registered at any prison in the country.
The persecution of Christians in Iran, especially converts, has been highlighted by the United Nations, the U.S. Government’s Commission on Religious Freedom and Amnesty International, who stated in their 2015/16 International Report that “Christian converts from Islam … faced discrimination in employment and restrictions on their access to education and freedom to practise their faith.”