x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Iran upholds 8-year jail term for US pastor

American-Iranian pastor was jailed for his role in establishing underground churches in Iran, according to his lawyer.

TEHRAN // A Tehran appeals court upheld an eight-year prison sentence against an American-Iranian pastor jailed for his role in establishing underground churches in Iran, his lawyer told ISNA news agency Monday.

Saeed Abedini, a naturalised US citizen who converted from Islam to Christianity, was handed the sentence in January.

"The Tehran appeals court... confirmed the verdict. As a consequence, the sentence of eight years in prison is definitive from now on," Abedini's Iran-based lawyer Nasser Sarbazi said.

In March, UN Secretary of State John Kerry demanded Abedini's release after he was sentenced to eight years in prison for "creating a private church in his house" and "harming national security".

Abedini's supporters said that he led underground churches in Iran in the early 2000s when such activity was largely tolerated during the pro-reform presidency of Mohammad Khatami.

Having resettled in the United States, Abedini was detained on a return trip to Iran in 2009 and was let go following an agreement not to engage in underground religious activities, according to his family.

Naghmeh Abedini said that her husband complied with the 2009 agreement and had returned to Iran as part of efforts to build an orphanage.

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

The confirmation of the verdict coincided with a visit to Tehran by Oman's Sultan Qaboos, who has acted as an intermediary between Iran and the Washington to free several US nationals jailed in iran, and Iranians held in the US.

Washington and Tehran cut diplomatic ties in 1980, after the Islamic revolution, and Switzerland has acted as a mediator between the two countries since.