IRAN: Country Profile

Iran Facts
Population:80,946,000
Official language: Persian (Farsi)
Other spoken languages:Azeri, Kurdish, Gilaki, Mazani, Luri, Arabic, Balochi, ...
Official religion: Shia Islam (approx 87%)
Other religions: Sunni Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Bahá'í Faith, Mandaeism, Yarsanism, ...
Christians: 500,000-800,000
Government: Theocratic Republic

Overview

Iranian authorities heavily suppress the right to freedom of religion or belief. Iranian Christians continue to face arbitrary arrest and detention, grossly unfair trials and lengthy imprisonment. Lack of due process, unfair trials, widespread torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners has been widely reported. Officially recognised churches are subjected to increasingly restrictive controls and effectively banned from using the Persian language in their activities. The authorities continue to raid "house churches" and publicly vilify evangelical Christians - thereby endorsing brutal security measures against them. Forcible closure of businesses owned by Christians, confiscation of properties, bans on employment in the public sector and denial of access to universities are also among the reported violations of freedom of religion.  

Background

Iran’s Constitution establishes Iran as an unalterably Islamic state (Twelver Ja’fari school) and establishes Islamic law as the basis of all legislation. Increasingly a strict interpretation of Shi’a Islam has been imposed by authorities on individuals of all faiths as a code of public conduct.

The Constitution provides religious-minority status to Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, and states that the human rights of non-Muslims are to be respected as long as they refrain from activities against Islam or the Islamic Republic of Iran. These three recognised religious minorities have parliamentary representation and are entitled to establish and use their own rites in matters of personal status. The principle of non-discrimination is affirmed, and article 23 states that the “investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden”.

Although the Penal Code does not stipulate the death penalty for apostasy (a proposed amendment to the Code to criminalise apostasy was not adopted in the 2013 amendments), Article 167 of the Constitution makes provision for judges to rely on authoritative Islamic sources in matters not covered by the codified law – effectively providing scope for Islamic law sanctions to be applied for apostasy. The only known example of a Christian convert being executed for apostasy was Rev Hossein Soodmand in 1990, though others have received the death sentence only to see it overturned after an international outcry.

Iran ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 24 June 1975. The ICCPR upholds the right to freedom of religion, including the right to hold a religion of one’s choice and the right to manifest that religion (Article 18). It also upholds the rights of minorities and the principle of non-discrimination. Iran’s ratification of the ICCPR was made without reservation.

Although Iran is party to ICCPR and other international covenants that provide for freedom of religion or belief, several Christians, Bahá'ís, Sufi Dervishes and Sunni Muslims have been killed judicially and extra-judicially, tortured, imprisoned or generally harassed on account of their faith.

Iranian Parliament or Islamic Consultative Assembly
A remembrance ceremony for the fallen members of religious minorities during the Iran-Iraq war.

Armenian Orthodox church service in Tehran

Iranian Christians worship in a house-church

Iran’s officially recognised Christian community includes Armenian and Syriac communities, thought to number approximately 300,000 – though some recent unofficial estimates suggest this has dropped very significantly in recent years due to emigration. These communities preserve their own linguistic and cultural traditions. The other main category of Christians does not have official status – these are Persian believers from Muslim backgrounds, principally within the Protestant “house church" movement. Their numbers are conservatively estimated to be between 500,000 and 800,000. 

Iranian authorities grant some limited freedoms to official churches and they are allowed to conduct their religious services in their own ethnic language but are forbidden from offering services to people of other backgrounds in Persian, Iran’s national language. Recognised churches include Armenian Apostolic, Russian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Armenian, Chaldean and Roman Catholic, and Anglican, Presbyterian and (until recently) Pentecostal.

Officially recognised churches have been subjected to increasingly restrictive controls since 2009. This has led to the rise of "house churches", where Christian converts of Muslim heritage gather in private homes for worship and Bible study.

Main sources of persecution of Christians in Iran

Since the 1979 revolution, Iran's religious minorities have suffered increasing human rights violations, with the persecution of Muslim converts to Christianity in particular escalating since 2009. This has placed Iran among the top-10 persecutors of Christians since 2011, according to the World Watch List produced by Open Doors International.

Persecution of Christians in Iran comes mostly from the state. Hardliners within the Iranian regime are increasingly concerned about the spread of Christianity, and see evangelical Christians as a threat. Since 2010, political leaders, including Iran's Supreme Leader, have issued warnings about the "house church" movement as a destabilising factor threatening the future of their theocratic state. 

In addition to persecution from government sources, Christian converts of Muslim heritage often face strong family and societal pressure. Iranian society as a whole is more tolerant than the state. But conversion from Islam is still seen by some traditional families as a great family disgrace.

A combination of these factors accounts for the high emigration-rate of Christians from Iran, whether from Muslim or indigenous Christian backgrounds.

Arbitrary arrest and detention of Christians continues

Freedom of religion or belief

Freedom of religion or belief is systematically violated. This includes arbitrary arrests, lengthy imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment, forcible closure of businesses owned by members of religious minorities, confiscation of properties, bans on employment in the public sector and denial of access to universities. 

Officially recognised churches have been subjected to increasingly restrictive controls since 2009. Churches are effectively banned from using the Persian language in their activities, a restriction enforced through various means. Intelligence forces have asked leaders of these churches to hand over details of their members. Churches have also been asked to end their Friday Persian-speaking services in a clear attempt to reduce attendance since Friday is a weekend day and Sunday is a working day. The largest Persian-speaking church in Tehran was forced to cease its Sunday services in Persian in 2013.

Iranian Christians continue to face arbitrary arrest and detention, grossly unfair trials and lengthy imprisonment. The authorities in most cases charge them with spurious national security offences in connection with the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of religion or belief. Lack of due process, unfair trials, widespread torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners has been widely reported.

The authorities continue to crack down heavily on activists in the "house church" movement. Every year many Christians are summoned for interrogation, detained and prosecuted for participating in house-church activities. 

The authorities regularly incite hatred and violence, vilifying evangelical Christians as “heretical”, “deviant”, and “parasites”. They have endorsed pervasive discrimination and violence based on religious belief.

The right to change or renounce religious beliefs continues to be violated. Christian converts have received lengthy prison sentences, ranging from 10 to 15 years in several cases.

Christians arrested for their "house church" activities have been arbitrarily dismissed from employment or denied enrolment in universities. 

Non-Shi’a Muslims are not allowed to stand as presidential candidates or hold key political offices.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Torture and other ill-treatment remains common, especially during interrogations. Detainees held by the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards are routinely subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, amounting to torture.

The authorities continue to deprive prisoners detained for religious reasons of adequate medical care. In many cases, this has been done as a deliberate punishment to force them to recant their faith and amounts to torture.

Prisoners endure cruel and inhumane conditions in detention, including overcrowding, limited hot water, inadequate food, insufficient beds, poor ventilation and insect infestations.

Unfair trials

Trials of Christians are systematically unfair. There are no independent mechanisms for ensuring accountability within the judiciary. Serious concerns remain that judges, particularly those presiding over Revolutionary Courts, are appointed on the basis of their political opinions and affiliation with intelligence bodies.

Fair trial provisions of the 2015 Code of Criminal Procedure, including those guaranteeing access to a lawyer from the time of arrest and during investigations, are routinely flouted. The authorities continue to invoke Article 48 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to prevent those detained for political reasons from accessing lawyers of their own choosing. Lawyers have been told they were not on the list approved by the Head of the Judiciary, even though no official list has been made public.

Trials, particularly those before Revolutionary Courts, remain closed and extremely brief, sometimes lasting just a few minutes.

Timeline: Incidents reported

  • Christian convert released on bail of nearly $40,000
    A Christian convert detained for three weeks, following his arrest by Ministry of Intelligence agents, has been released on bail equivalent to nearly $40,000, according to an Iranian Christian news agency. Iman Golzar was released on 7 February on bail of 2 billions tomans (around $38,000), reports Mohabat News. He had been arrested at midnight on 16 January at his home in Dezful, western Iran, then held incommunicado in an unknown location. His parents, who are deaf, were said to be “very worried” about him and tried to find out where he was, but were threatened by the local authorities that they would be “dealt with” if they kept asking questions. The agents showed no warrant while arresting Iman, and confiscated his computer and CCTV cameras. Iman’s interrogators reportedly put him under “severe mental and emotional pressure” during his detention.  It is not yet known whether he has been officially charged. Meanwhile, another Christian convert arrested in Dezful on Christmas Eve is still believed to be in custody. Esmaeil Narimanpour, who was previously forced to undergo religious re-education sessions, was one of at least 46 Christians arrested in Iran in December alone, in a new wave of arrests over the...
  • Christian convert imprisoned and exiled by Islamic Republic ‘died of heart attack’
    A Christian convert who had been imprisoned and exiled by the regime has been found dead aged 37.  Ebrahim Firouzi’s family told mourners at his burial today (Thursday, 22 February) that "he died of a heart attack" on Tuesday, 20 February. Paying tribute to Ebrahim, Article18 Director Mansour Borji, said: “Ebrahim’s untimely death is devastating. We have followed his case since he was arrested by the Iranian regime for going to a house-church and for being in possession of Bibles.  “The Islamic Republic of Iran had sentenced Ebrahim for 'acting against national security', but nothing could have been further from the truth.  “The freedom for everyone to have access to and possess a Bible was central to Ebrahim’s life and ministry. It was the reason he was initially arrested and served almost seven years in prison for. Even during imprisonment, he found creative ways to make that available to everyone when he became responsible for the prison library. During his two years in exile, and up to the last days of his life on Earth, this passion did not leave him.” After Ebrahim served his sentence, he was banished in 2019 to a remote region of Iran - near the...
  • Brothers face ‘propaganda’ charges under amended Article 500
    Two brothers arrested before Christmas and detained for a month have been charged with “deviant educational or propaganda activities contrary to the holy Islamic law by making false claims in religious fields”. Alireza and Amir Nourmohammadi were arrested in Karaj, near Tehran, on 11 December, alongside fellow house-church member Milad Goodarzi, as well as Alireza’s son, though the Nourmohammadi family’s identities were not made public at the time. Milad and Alireza's son were released on bail later that same day, but the two brothers remained in detention until their release on bail on 10 January, when they were each forced to submit approximately $3,000. Meanwhile, several other families associated with the same house-church were summoned and interrogated regarding their faith and religious activities. Alireza and Amir have been charged under the controversially amended Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, the second time Alireza has been charged under the new law, having only been released in March last year after 16 months in Karaj Central Prison on similar charges. Alireza served those 16 months alongside Milad and another house-church member, Amin Khaki, all of whom had previously spent time in prison, back in 2019, following charges of “propaganda against the...
  • Arrested Christian convert held incommunicado in unknown location, parents ‘very worried’
    A Christian convert arrested last week remains in detention in an unknown location, according to a report by an Iranian Christian news site. Iman Golzar was arrested at his home in Dezful, western Iran, at midnight on 16 January by plainclothes agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, who showed no warrant and confiscated his computer and CCTV cameras, according to Mohabat News. Iman was then reportedly taken away to an unknown location, with no news of him since, despite the efforts of his parents, who are deaf, to discover his whereabouts and condition. His parents are said to be “very worried about him” but were told to stop asking questions about him, and threatened that they would be “dealt with” should they continue pursuing his case. Iman is the second Christian convert from Dezful to have been arrested in recent weeks; Esmaeil Narimanpour, who was arrested on Christmas Eve, also remains in detention. At least three other Christians were arrested over the Christmas period in separate incidents in the nearby cities of Ahvaz and Izeh, though Article18 is not able to provide any more information about those arrests at this stage.
  • Lawyer who defended Christians summoned to prosecutor’s office
    A lawyer who has represented several Iranian Christians in court has been summoned to the prosecutor’s office in the city where he used to live and work. Iman Soleimani, whose previous clients include former prisoners of conscience Joseph Shahbazian and Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh - both of whom were sentenced to 10 years in prison for their involvement in house-churches - has been told he must come to the General and Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office in Bandar-e Mahshahr on Tuesday, 16 January. Bandar-e Mahshahr, a port city at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf, is not far from Dezful, where Mr Soleimani once defended a number of other Christian converts who were forced to undergo religious “re-education” sessions with an Islamic cleric. One of those converts, Esmaeil Narimanpour, was recently re-arrested and remains in custody. Mr Soleimani also previously defended three converts who were sentenced to five years in prison for their participation in house-churches, and whose trial he was highly critical of. “I’ve been involved with this case from the beginning,” Mr Soleimani wrote on Twitter, “and volumes of unspoken stories could be written regarding the shortcomings of how the arrest and preliminary investigations took place, the illegal proceedings in...
  • Christian convert, 60, summoned to begin prison sentence for house-church leadership
    A 60-year-old Iranian Christian convert has been summoned to begin her six-year prison sentence for “acting against national security by promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity” through leadership of a house-church. Mina Khajavi, who was arrested back in 2020, was sentenced in 2022 alongside fellow Christian convert Malihe Nazari, who also received a six-year sentence, and Iranian-Armenian pastor Joseph Shahbazian, who was sentenced to 10 years. However, while Joseph and Malihe began serving their sentences a few months later, Mina was viewed as being unfit to serve her sentence, after she was run over by a car. Mina’s ankle was badly broken, and metal plates had to be fitted.  Mina continues to walk with a limp today and has developed arthritis, but on Wednesday, 3 January, she was told she must submit herself to Evin Prison within five days. This is in spite of the fact that both Joseph and Malihe, who were convicted on the same charge, were released early from their sentences. Joseph’s sentence was initially reduced to two years, after an appeal-court judge ruled there was “not enough evidence to determine the maximum punishment specified in Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code”, which relates to the organisation of groups...
  • Armenian faces court hearing on charges of ‘promoting Christianity’
    An Armenian Christian who remains in Evin Prison nearly five months after his arrest faces a first court hearing this Sunday on charges of “propaganda against the state through the promotion of Christianity”. Hakop Gochumyan, who is 35 years old, will be tried at the 26th Branch of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on 7 January. Hakop’s wife, Elisa, an Iranian-Armenian who was also detained in Evin Prison for two months before her release in October, recorded an emotional video message in support of her husband just before Christmas. In the video, a copy of which was sent to Article18, Elisa described how she and Hakop were arrested in August by agents from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence while having dinner with some friends. “I still don't know why they detained us,” Elisa said. “We are Christians and we did nothing illegal. “Christmas is near and our children ask me: ‘When is daddy coming home?’ I don't know how to answer them.” https://twitter.com/articleeighteen/status/1740010218136699041 Elisa described her time in Evin Prison as “the hardest days of my life”. Hakop and Elisa were two of over 100 Christians arrested within the space of three months last summer in Iran, but they remain the only ones...
  • Christian convert still in custody after Christmas Eve arrest
    A Christian convert previously forced to attend “re-education” sessions with an Islamic cleric remains detained following his arrest during a Christmas Eve raid on his home in Dezful, western Iran. Esmaeil Narimanpour’s home was searched and his Christian books confiscated during the 6pm raid, though the arresting agents did not have a warrant. Esmaeil was able to call his family briefly on Christmas Day to tell them that he was being held in Ahvaz, 150km south of Dezful.  However, when his wife and brother went to follow up on his case, they were themselves questioned and detained for several hours. At least three other Christians were reportedly arrested over the Christmas period in separate incidents in Ahvaz and Izeh, 200km east of Ahvaz, though Article18 is not at liberty to provide any more information about these arrests. Meanwhile, four Christian converts, including an Afghan refugee, remain detained following their arrest after an 11 December raid on a house-church gathering near Tehran. Article18’s director Mansour Borji commented: “We are outraged that Christians in Iran have yet again been arrested during the Christmas season, when the Iranian government has continued its pattern of intimidation and crackdown on Christians during this holy season....
  • Four Christian converts including Afghan refugee remain detained three weeks after arrest
    Four Christian converts, including an Afghan refugee, remain in detention over three weeks after their arrest in Shahriar, west of Tehran. The arrests followed an 11 December raid by 30 intelligence agents on a house-church gathering, where around 25 men, women and children had gathered to pray and worship together and to plan their Christmas celebration. The agents read out the names of three of the individuals present, two of whom - a woman in her early thirties and a 70-year-old man - were arrested on the spot, while the third, a man named Siroos Khosravi, was arrested three days later after answering a summons for further questioning. All three of the individuals whose names had been read out were driven to their homes, which were searched, while all others present at the gathering were forced to fill out forms containing questions regarding their Christian faith and activities, and told they would soon be summoned for further questioning. The Afghan refugee was arrested separately, though the details of his arrest remains unknown; his fate was only discovered when the families of those arrested in Shahriar saw him in handcuffs alongside their loved ones, when visiting the prosecutor’s office to seek...
  • Armenian Christian remains in Evin Prison four months after arrest
    An Armenian citizen, who was one of over 100 Christians arrested in Iran this summer, remains detained in Evin Prison more than four months later. Hakop Gochumyan, 35, was visiting Iran with his wife Elisa, who is an Iranian-Armenian, and their two children, when they were arrested on 15 August in Pardis, just outside Tehran. The couple and their children, who are aged seven and 10, were having dinner at a friend’s home, when a dozen plainclothes agents of the Ministry of Intelligence raided the property.  The agents confiscated personal belongings, including some Christian books, and then took the Gochumyan family back to Elisa’s grandmother’s house, where they had been staying for the summer holiday’s. The agents searched this property as well, before taking Hakop and Elisa away to Evin Prison, leaving their children in the custody of an aunt.  Hakop and Elisa were then placed in solitary confinement in the notorious Ward 209 of Evin Prison, which is under the control of the Ministry of Intelligence, and subjected to intense psychological torture and back-to-back interrogation sessions, each lasting between two to five hours. Neither Hakop nor Elisa were informed of any official charges against them, in violation of Article...
  • Two house-church members detained in unknown location after coordinated arrests
    A former prisoner of conscience and his brother remain in detention in an unknown location after four house-church members were arrested yesterday during coordinated raids by intelligence agents on their homes and shops near Tehran. The name of the detainees cannot be divulged at this stage, but their arrest was reported to be violent. The former prisoner’s son was also arrested during a simultaneous raid on his shop in Karaj, but he was released later that day, as was Milad Goodarzi, another former prisoner of conscience who had been arrested during a concurrent raid on his home. Milad Goodarzi was among the prisoners of conscience released earlier this year, as part of a wider amnesty of prisoners on the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Republic. But as with many of the other released prisoners, Milad had already served the majority of his prison sentence - a three-year term, reduced from five, for “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam”. Milad and the two men sentenced alongside him, Amin Khaki and Alireza Nourmohammadi, were the first examples of house-church members being charged, and later convicted, under the amended Article...
  • House-church leader returns to prison after first home visit since sudden transfer
    A house-church leader serving a six-year sentence for “propagating Christianity” has returned to a prison on the other side of the country from his wife and daughter, after a first visit home since his sudden transfer five months ago. Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, known as Matthias, was transferred without warning - or the chance to say goodbye to wife Anahita and daughter Hannah - back in July, and had to pay for his travel expenses to return home to Anzali, which is in north Iran, 1,000 miles from Minab Prison in the far south. Matthias has been serving this particular sentence since January 2022, but has spent much of the past five years in prison, having only just been acquitted of a five-year sentence - for “promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity” - before his re-arrest and imprisonment two weeks later. Indeed, Matthias has been in and out of prison since his first arrest in 2006 - all because of his leadership of house-churches. Iran is a signatory of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which protects rights including peaceful assembly (Article 21) and freedom of religion or belief (Article 18), but house-churches have been labelled “enemy groups” of a “Zionist cult”...
  • Converts released from prison but must report back daily for work
    Three “Church of Iran” members sentenced to five years in prison for their participation in house-churches have been permitted to serve the remainder of their sentences outside prison, but must report back daily to work at an adjacent factory. Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh were convicted of “spreading deviant beliefs contrary to Islam” under the controversially amended Article 500 of Iran’s penal code, which the UN Human Rights Committee has said should be “repealed or amended”. Morteza, whose sentence was halved in November last year, was released from Lakan Prison in May, while Ahmad and Ayoob were released in late October, but all three must return to the prison, which is in their home city of Rasht, from 7am to 5pm each day to work at the factory next door. Another “Church of Iran” house-church member sentenced to two years in prison for “spreading ‘Zionist’ Christianity”, Sakine (Mehri) Behjati, was released under a similar scheme late last year, after initially having her request rejected. Article18 can now confirm that Mehri was among those “pardoned” earlier this year, but it should be noted that while several others have also been released or pardoned this year, many more face potential...
  • Iranian-Armenian pastor begins 10-year sentence for his ‘disturbing’ teachings
    As Iran’s president was flying to New York this morning, an Iranian-Armenian pastor was handing himself in to prison in Tehran to begin a 10-year sentence for engaging in “propaganda contrary to and disturbing to the holy religion of Islam”. Anooshavan Avedian, who is 61 years old, was sentenced more than a year ago, but had not been summoned to serve his sentence until he was visited last week by two plainclothes officers from the Ministry of Intelligence. This visit took place last Wednesday, the same day that another Iranian-Armenian pastor, Joseph Shahbazian, was released from Evin Prison.  That very same day, Anooshavan was told that the time had come for him to begin his own 10-year jail term. Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, said the timing of Anooshavan’s summons showed that “the general policy of the Iranian government towards Christians has not changed”. “Although we have seen a number of Christians released this year,” he said, “the fact that somebody has now gone to prison on the same charges or for the same activities for which others have been pardoned or released, or had their sentences reduced, shows the arbitrary nature of the judicial system in Iran.” Mr Borji added...
  • Iranian-Armenian pastor ‘pardoned’, released from prison
    Iranian-Armenian pastor Joseph Shahbazian has been “pardoned” and released after just over a year in Tehran’s Evin Prison. The 59-year-old was last year given a 10-year sentence for holding church services in his home, though this sentence was reduced to two years in May.  Joseph then applied for furlough, or to be released to serve the remainder of his sentence at home with an electronic tag. But early yesterday evening, the pastor was summoned to the Evin Prison office and informed that he had been “pardoned”.  He was then given an hour to collect his things, and then finally set free from Evin Prison and able to return home to be with his family, including a nine-month-old granddaughter - Joseph’s first grandchild - born during his imprisonment. Joseph has suffered ill health during his 13 months in prison, but for several months was denied a medical appointment, and even afterwards was not told of his diagnosis. He recently discovered, by chance, that he was suspected to be suffering from a serious illness, though it is not known whether his “pardoning” relates to this fact. Joseph was eligible for conditional release, having served more than one-third of his reduced sentence, but...
  • At least 10 still detained as numbers of arrests and affected cities rise
    A clearer picture is beginning to emerge of the dozens of arrests of Christians that took place over a seven-week period in June and July, across as many as 11 Iranian cities. Article18 previously reported that over 50 Christians had been arrested in the space of seven days in mid-July, across five different cities. The number of confirmed arrests now stands at at least 69*, across 11 cities, and with at least 10 of those arrested - four men and six women - still in detention. The arrests took place between 1 June and 17 July. And as well as the previously reported arrests in Tehran, Karaj, Rasht, Orumiyeh and Aligoudarz, Article18 can now confirm that arrests also took place in the cities of Isfahan, Shiraz, Semnan, Garmsar, Varamin and Eslamshahr. Those who have been released have reported being forced to sign commitments to refrain from further Christian activities, or ordered to attend Islamic re-education sessions.  Others said they were summoned for further questioning in the days after their release, or ordered to leave Iran, while one said his employment was terminated at the request of intelligence agents. Bail amounts have ranged between 400 million ($8,000) and 2 billion tomans...
  • Over 50 Christians in five cities arrested in new crackdown
    More than 50 Christian converts have been arrested in a rash of new incidents across five Iranian cities over the past seven days, with fears the number could rise much higher as fresh reports keep coming in. At least 51 of those arrested at their homes or house-churches - in the cities of Tehran, Karaj, Rasht, Orumiyeh and Aligoudarz - remain in detention on unknown charges, while others have been released on bail. Article18 cannot at this time share any more details about the incidents, but after very few publicly reported arrests of Christians so far this year, the news marks a clear change in approach. Mansour Borji, Article18’s advocacy director, commented: “The reason for this sudden surge in nationwide arrests of Christians is not clear at this stage. What is obvious is that Iran has begun a fresh crackdown on civil liberties, and the traditionally vulnerable groups, like Christians, are on the front line of those targeted.” Mr Borji drew a parallel between the recent visible return of the morality police to the streets, saying that “overall there seems to be a renewed or more aggressive crackdown on groups the regime feels threatened by”. “The relative withdrawal of the...
  • Pastor transferred to prison 1,000 miles from home and family
    An Iranian pastor who has spent most of the past four years behind bars has now been transferred to another prison on the other side of the country, 1,000 miles from his home and family. Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad, who is known as Matthias, was flown yesterday morning from Rasht, northern Iran, to the remote southern city of Minab, where he has been told he must serve the remainder of his six-year prison sentence for “propagating Christianity”. Matthias had been serving this particular sentence in his home city of Anzali, near Rasht, since January 2022, when he was detained just two weeks after being released following his acquittal from a separate five-year sentence for “promoting Zionist Christianity”. The sentence Matthias is now serving - of which he was also once acquitted, before this was later overturned - dates back to 2012, and stipulated that he was to be imprisoned in Minab. However, until now, this aspect of the sentence had not been enforced. But yesterday morning, Matthias was suddenly taken to the airport in Rasht and flown to the other side of the country, without a chance to say goodbye to his wife, Anahita, or their daughter, Hannah. It is not uncommon for...
  • Three Christian women held incommunicado for 40 days face court hearing on unknown charges
    Three Iranian women converts to Christianity arrested last month and held incommunicado in Tehran’s Evin Prison for 40 days face a court hearing on Sunday on unknown charges, according to a US-based Christian organisation. Shilan Oraminejad, Razieh (Maral) Kohzady, and Zahra (Yalda) Heidary were arrested in their homes early in the morning of 9 May by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence, who claimed to have search warrants and confiscated personal belongings including mobile phones, laptops, books, and pamphlets “without any explanation”, according to Mehr Ministries. The Christians were then reportedly taken to an unknown location and held incommunicado for 40 days, before being able to call their families to let them know they were being held in Evin Prison. The Christians have since reportedly been able to see their families, but continue to be denied access to a lawyer. Hamid Hatami, president of Mehr Ministries, told VOA Farsi that when their families visited them in prison, “they were not in a good physical condition”. Yesterday, Mehr reported that two of the women - Shilan and Zahra - have been released on bail, but Maral remains in custody. All three reportedly face a court hearing on Sunday, 2 July, at...
  • Convert flogged for second time, now faces exile
    A house-church leader who has already spent nearly five years in prison, and was once flogged for drinking Communion wine, has been flogged a second time and now faces two years in exile.  Zaman Fadaie, who is known as Saheb, was flogged again on Sunday, 25 June, having travelled from his home in Rasht, northern Iran, to Tehran in the hope of securing the release of a property deed submitted long ago for his bail. But instead of receiving the property deed back, Saheb was told that despite his recent “pardoning”, two punishments remained on his case file that had yet to be enforced: 50 lashes for not returning to prison on time following a furlough, and two years’ exile in the city of Nehbandan, 1,000 miles from home, as part of a separate conviction for “spreading propaganda against the regime”. Saheb, who is part of the “Church of Iran”, was served his 50 lashes on the spot, and then told he must submit himself to the authorities in Nehbandan, which is close to the Afghan border, within the “next few days”. Saheb, who recently celebrated his 42nd birthday, is married to Marjan, who travelled with him to Tehran and...
  • Decade-long prison sentence for Iranian Christian reduced to two years
    A Court of Appeal in Tehran has cut a decade-long prison sentence for a Christian down to two years after a retrial.  Joseph Shahbazian, an Iranian-Armenian Christian who was imprisoned for holding church services in his home, has spent nine months in Evin prison, Iran’s most notorious jail. Now, following a retrial on Wednesday, 24 May, the 21st Branch of Tehran’s Court of Appeal has reduced Joseph’s 10-year sentence to two years. The court did not find “enough evidence to determine the maximum punishment specified in Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code”, which relates to the organisation of groups that "threaten national security". A two-year sentence of exile in a remote province in the southeast of Iran following Joseph’s incarceration has also been thrown out.  Mansour Borji, advocacy director at Article18, said: “It is great that both the Supreme and Appeal courts have acknowledged the unmerited and cruel maximum punishment that was handed down to Mr Shahbazian.  “However, it is disappointing that they have failed to recognise and uphold his rights as a citizen to worship peacefully and freely without the fear of cohesion and prosecution.  “Joseph has not done anything illegal to deserve two years in prison.  “Praying...
  • Parkinson’s sufferer and wife acquitted, released from prison
    A 64-year-old Christian convert with advanced Parkinson’s disease and his wife have been acquitted and released from their combined 10-year prison sentence. Homayoun Zhaveh, whose health has deteriorated while in prison, and his wife Sara Ahmadi had been detained in the respective men’s and women’s wings of Tehran’s Evin Prison since August last year, serving sentences of two and eight years in prison, respectively, for their involvement in a house-church. They were first arrested in 2019, sentenced in 2020, and summoned to prison in 2021, only to be informed they could return home. But a year later, on 13 August 2022, they were summoned once more, and this time detained. Their first two applications for a retrial were rejected, but on Easter Day they were informed that the Supreme Court had finally ordered that their case be heard again by an appeal court. And yesterday, at the 34th branch of the appeal court in Tehran, they were acquitted and ordered to be released. Sara and Homayoun were released from Evin Prison early yesterday evening. In the ruling, the appeal-court judge said that gathering with people of one’s own faith was “natural”, and having books related to Christianity was “also an...
  • Christian convert whose son has leukaemia released from prison
    A 50-year-old Christian convert whose son has been battling leukaemia for five years was released from prison on Monday, two days before his 25th birthday. Malihe Nazari, who was serving a six-year prison sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison for “acting against national security by promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity”, had been in prison since August 2022. Her son, Mohammad-Hossein, turns 25 today. Article18 has not yet been able to independently verify the details of Malihe’s release, but Mohabat News reported that the Supreme Court ruled in her favour due to her son’s condition. Mohammad-Hossein was first diagnosed with cancer five years ago and at one stage was believed to have recovered, until a resurgence two years ago. Malihe was given three days’ leave from prison in March, as Mohammad-Hossein’s health had deteriorated. However, as noted by Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, at the UK parliament presentation of our annual report last month, Malihe was then forced to return to prison on the day of the Iranian New Year. Background Joseph Shahbazian and Mina Khajavi. Malihe was sentenced alongside another Christian woman convert to Christianity, Mina Khajavi, who is 60 years old, and an Iranian-Armenian pastor, Joseph Shahbazian, who is 59. Mina also received...
  • Supreme Court orders retrial of Christian couple serving combined 10-year sentence
    An Iranian Christian couple serving a combined 10 years in prison for belonging to a house-church have had their third application for a retrial accepted. Sara Ahmadi, who will turn 45 on Friday, and Homayoun Zhaveh, who is 64 and has advanced Parkinson’s disease, were informed of the decision on Easter Day. The ruling was made by Branch 9 of the Supreme Court, the same branch that agreed last month to a retrial in the case of an Iranian-Armenian pastor, Joseph Shahbazian, serving a 10-year sentence for holding church services in his home. Sara and Homayoun's case will be reviewed by Branch 34 of Tehran’s appeal court on 9 May. The couple have been in prison since August last year, when they were surprisingly detained after answering a summons which they believed would only see them reunited with property confiscated from them by the agents who arrested them. They were arrested back in June 2019, sentenced in November 2020, and first answered a summons to serve their sentences in June 2021, only to be told they could return home. Their first two applications for a retrial - in June 2021 and November 2021 - were both rejected. In June 2021,...
  • Supreme Court agrees to retrial of Iranian-Armenian pastor serving 10-year sentence
    Iran’s Supreme Court has agreed that an ethnic Armenian pastor serving a 10-year prison sentence for holding church services in his home should be afforded a retrial. The ruling by the ninth branch of the Supreme Court, dated 25 February, was communicated to Joseph Shahbazian’s lawyer on Monday, 13 March. In their short explanation, the judges, Ghasem Mezyani and Majid Hosseini-Nik, say that having considered his case, the maximum sentence of 10 years was “not appropriate” as both the Revolutionary and appeal courts failed to “offer any evidence” to prove he was the leader of the group. Joseph, who has been in Tehran's Evin Prison since last August, was sentenced under Article 498 of the penal code, which provides for up to 10 years’ imprisonment for those who “establish groups that aim to disrupt national security”. Under Article 499, the maximum sentence for membership - as opposed to leadership - of such a group is five years. Although Christianity is recognised as a minority religion in Iran’s constitution, in practice this recognition is only given to churches that offer services in the ethnic minority languages of Armenian and Assyrian (both historically Christian groups) and not to Persian-speaking churches - whether...
  • Church Haik Hovsepian founded set to be sold by Iranian state
    A church of huge significance for Iranian Christians is set to be sold by an organisation headed by Iran's Supreme Leader.  The Assemblies of God church in Gorgan, northeast Iran, has over the years been led by some of the most well-known Iranian pastors, including three who were killed for their faith. The church was founded by perhaps the best known of them all, Haik Hovsepian, who went on to become the head of all Assemblies of God churches in Iran, before his murder in January 1994. Haik Hovsepian was the leader of the Gorgan church for a decade. Bishop Haik established the Gorgan church in 1970, and led it for a decade. After him, other pastors included Hossein Soodmand, who was executed for his “apostasy” in 1990, and Mohammad Bagher Yusefi (known as “Ravanbakhsh”), who like Haik was killed in suspicious circumstances in the mid-90s.  Another of the Iranian Church’s martyrs, Ghorban Tourani, was also for a time a member of the church in Gorgan, even after the building’s forced closure. For more than 25 years, the church building in Gorgan has stood empty and dormant, a relic to a former time when, even in the early days of...
  • Fifth convert released amid mass pardoning of political prisoners
    A fifth convert has been released as part of the mass pardoning of political prisoners, while there are reports two more may also have been freed, perhaps taking the total to as many as seven within the past month. Milad Goodarzi, who was nearly halfway through a three-year sentence - reduced from five - for “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam”, was released from Karaj’s Central Prison on Saturday morning. And Article18 understands the two men imprisoned alongside him, Amin Khaki and Alireza Nourmohammadi, may also have been released.  The trio, who belong to the “Church of Iran” denomination, were the first converts to be charged, and then sentenced, under the amended Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, which Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, had warned would “bring more ambiguity to an already ambiguous set of charges” and “decrease the chance that a judge may act in a more tolerant way towards house-church members, by providing greater scope within the law to bring charges on these vaguely-defined grounds”. Reacting to the news of Milad’s release, Mr Borji commented: “Why so many Christians have been released is open to speculation, but...
  • Arbitrarily detained pastor released from prison but faces flogging and exile
    An Iranian pastor once sentenced to death for his “apostasy” has been “pardoned” and released after nearly five years in Tehran’s Evin Prison, but told he still faces flogging and two years’ exile 2,000km from his home. Yousef Nadarkhani, whose death sentence was overturned back in 2011, was sentenced again in July 2017, alongside three other converts, to 10 years in prison and two years’ exile for “acting against national security by propagating house-churches and promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity”. A year later, Pastor Yousef was violently arrested at his home in Rasht, northern Iran - one of his sons was also assaulted - and taken to Tehran to begin his sentence. And, aside from two short furloughs, there Pastor Yousef has remained until his release on Sunday, 26 February. But as the pastor was being released, despite having been told he had been pardoned - and this also recorded on the official prison database - he was informed he would soon be summoned to receive 30 lashes and also to serve his two years in exile in Nikshahr, on the other side of the country from his home in Rasht. Pastor Yousef was told that the lashes were because of an unauthorised leave...
  • Third Christian convert released as part of latest pardons
    A third Christian convert was among the prisoners pardoned and released earlier this month, Article18 can now confirm. Mehdi Rokhparvar, who was serving a five-year sentence for “acting against national security” by “forming an illegal evangelical Christian group”, was released from Tehran’s Evin Prison in the same week as fellow convert Saheb Fadaie. As reported last week, another convert, Moslem Rahimi, was released a week later, as part of a wider amnesty of prisoners on the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Republic. Each year, the Islamic Republic announces a wave of pardons to coincide with particular events – for example in October last year, when Christian converts Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh and Fariba Dalir were pardoned on the occasion of Muhammad’s birth. However, as noted in Article18’s new annual report, “such pardons, while welcome, do not address the original injustice of their sentencing, and imprisonment and the government continues to regard rights and freedoms guaranteed in international law as crimes, including the right to freely adopt a religion of one’s choice, and to manifest one’s faith in community with others”. Mehdi Rokhparvar had been in Evin Prison since June 2020, after a judge increased his bail to 7...
  • Second convert released as part of Islamic Republic anniversary celebrations
    A second convert serving a long prison sentence for being part of a house-church has been released as part of a wider amnesty of prisoners on the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Republic. Hadi Rahimi, known as Moslem, was released last Wednesday, after spending more than a year in prison for “acting against national security” by “spreading ‘Zionist’ Christianity”. The 33-year-old’s release came six days after that of fellow convert Saheb Fadaie, who was also “pardoned” after nearly five years in prison on similar charges.  Both men are members of the “Church of Iran” in the northern city of Rasht. Saheb was initially sentenced to 10 years in prison, later reduced to six, while Moslem received a four-year sentence. Moslem, who is a delivery driver, began his prison sentence in January of last year, after handing himself in to Tehran’s Evin Prison so the property deed submitted by a friend to secure his bail may be released. He was one of four converts to receive sentences in August 2020 of between two to five years in prison, including Moslem’s aunt Mehri, who is currently serving a two-year sentence. Each year, the Islamic Republic announces a wave of...
  • #Place2Worship campaigner released after nearly five years in prison
    Saheb Fadaie, with his wife Marjan and daughter Marta. An Iranian convert jailed for “acting against national security by organising house-churches and promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity” has been “pardoned” after nearly five years in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Zaman Fadaie, who is known as Saheb, was unexpectedly released in the small hours of this morning. He then made his way home to Rasht - four hours’ drive north of Tehran - where he surprised his wife, Marjan, and their 15-year-old daughter Marta.  Saheb had been in prison since July 2018, having initially been sentenced, alongside three other members of the “Church of Iran”, to 10 years in prison, followed by two years’ exile. In 2020, Saheb’s prison sentence was reduced to six years, but until today he still faced exile upon his release.  Now, however, that Saheb has been “pardoned”, he should no longer have to journey into exile. It is also important to note that Saheb’s pardon constitutes an “unconditional release”. On several occasions during his imprisonment, Saheb was offered “conditional release”, contingent upon him admitting he had acted wrongly, and committing to refrain from doing so in the future. But Saheb refused to accept any limitation upon his future freedom...
  • Wife of imprisoned pastor charged with ‘disturbing public opinion’
    The wife of a pastor serving a six-year prison sentence for “propagating Christianity” now faces her own charges of “propaganda against the state” and “disturbing public opinion”. Anahita Khademi, who is married to Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, was informed of the charges ahead of her release on bail last Saturday, 28 January. She was arrested on 3 January, a week after the arrest of her husband and two church members at a Christmas gathering in their home city of Bandar Anzali, in north Iran. Anahita spent more than three weeks in detention in Lakan Prison in nearby Rasht, before her release on bail equivalent to $4,000. The other two men, whose first names are Amir and Masoud, have also been released on bail, though it is not yet known whether they face the same charges. Meanwhile, Matthias, who had been on a long furlough from prison before his re-arrest, is now back in Anzali Prison, serving a sentence he first received back in 2012. Matthias was actually acquitted in 2014, but in January 2022, after his release from a separate five-year prison sentence on the same charge - as part of an historic Supreme Court ruling involving eight other “Church of...
  • Converts given short breaks from prison over Christmas
    Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh, Morteza Mashoodkari and Ahmad Sarparast (left to right) enjoying some time at home. Three “Church of Iran” members serving prison sentences for “spreading deviant beliefs contrary to Islam” were given short breaks from prison over the Christmas period. Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh were sentenced last April to five years in prison, under the controversially amended Article 500 of Iran’s penal code. They were arrested a month later and have been detained ever since.  They faced a second trial on identical charges in November, but were this time cleared of the charge. A week later, the initial sentence of one of the men, Morteza, was surprisingly reduced by half. Morteza was then the first to be given a break from prison: Lakan Prison in their home city of Rasht, in north Iran. Morteza was sent on 10 days’ leave on 28 November, after posting bail of 300 million tomans ($7,500). This leave was later extended, but Morteza, who will celebrate his 40th birthday next month, returned to prison on Monday. Ahmad, who will also celebrate a birthday next month - he will be 26 - was the next to be given 10 days’ leave, on 19...
  • Iranian-Assyrian woman protester released on bail after month in prison
    An Iranian-Assyrian woman has been released on bail after more than a month in detention in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison as a result of her support for the popular protests. Bianka Zaia, 38, was arrested on the evening of 26 November by plainclothes officers who raided her home and confiscated items including her Bible and other Christian items. She was then taken to Evin Prison and reportedly held in the infamous Ward 209, reserved for political prisoners, until her release on New Year’s Eve. Assyrians, alongside Armenians, are recognised as Christians by the regime and permitted relative freedom to worship, although their church services are heavily surveilled and they are strictly prohibited from proselytising. Those who fail to adhere to these restrictions are arrested and imprisoned, such as Victor Bet-Tamraz and Joseph Shahbazian. Assyrians and Armenians have long been used by the regime as evidence of alleged religious freedom for Christians in Iran, and as such they are a very significant propaganda tool for the regime. In keeping with this, late last year Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence pressured senior church figures and politicians to make statements critical of the protests, while 50 Assyrian youths who had either participated in or...
  • Pastor arrested at Christmas gathering during leave from prison
    A “Church of Iran” pastor who had been on leave from prison since last summer was rearrested at a Christmas gathering in Bandar Anzali, north Iran, on 26 December.  Two church members were also arrested that evening and, a week later, so was the pastor’s wife. The pastor, Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad, known as Matthias, is already serving a six-year prison sentence for his religious activities; however, he had been on leave from prison since July. But on 26 December, Matthias and two church members, named Amir and Masoud, were arrested and taken to Lakan Prison in nearby Rasht. Before his transfer to prison, Matthias was taken to his home, where it was searched and his personal items, including laptops and everything to do with Christianity, were confiscated. A week later, his wife, Anahita, was summoned for questioning at the intelligence offices in Bandar Anzali, where she was also arrested and transferred to Lakan. Matthias, who is 49 years old, has been arrested on numerous occasions, dating back to 2006. In 2021, he was one of nine converts acquitted by the Supreme Court of a five-year prison sentence for “propagating Christianity”, in what was seen as a potentially landscape-shifting verdict. However, just...
  • Converts cleared of wrongdoing in second trial on identical charges
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three “Church of Iran” members serving five-year prison sentences for “spreading deviant beliefs contrary to Islam” have been cleared of wrongdoing in a second trial on identical charges.  Meanwhile, in a separate development, one of the men, Morteza Mashoodkari, has had his prison sentence reduced by half. The second trial took place on 2 November at a Rasht Revolutionary Court. A week later, Morteza was informed that he had also been granted a “partial pardon” and reduction of his sentence to two and a half years. Morteza is now on 10 days’ leave from prison, having become eligible for furlough, having served a sufficient proportion of his reduced sentence. No explanation was given for Morteza’s pardon - nor why it was only partial - while there has been no such pardon for the two other “Church of Iran” members imprisoned alongside him, Ahmad Sarparast and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, said the decision to pardon only one of the three appeared “completely random”, and linked to a wider pardoning of thousands of prisoners in recent months, including Christian converts Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh and Fariba Dalir. “While all three converts...
  • Defenders of Christians among over 30 lawyers arrested
    Left to right: Babak Paknia, Bahar Sahraian, and Mustafa Nili. More than 30 lawyers, including at least three involved in defending Christian converts, have been arrested in recent weeks in cities across Iran. The arrests come as thousands of protesters await trial, without recourse to legal advice, and amid calls from more than 200 Iranian MPs for them to be sentenced to death. Hossein Ahmadiniaz, an Iranian human-rights defender now living in the Netherlands, told Article18 that many of the arrested lawyers are well-known figures, some of whom had offered legal advice to arrested protesters and openly “demanded the establishment of a legal commission to protect the rights of detainees, including the right of access to a lawyer”. At least four of those arrested also recently signed a joint statement in support of the ongoing protests, which stated that Iran’s judiciary, “which should exist to defend the rights of citizens”, had become a "despotic" and "corrupt" force, which "deals harshly with any opposition, has grieved many families, and trapped noble and freedom-loving people with false 'security' charges". Mr Ahmadiniaz said: “For 43 years, the regime of the Islamic Republic has always been hostile to and afraid of lawyers and the...
  • Second Christian convert unexpectedly ‘pardoned’, released from Evin Prison
    A second Christian convert has been unexpectedly pardoned and released from Tehran's Evin Prison just a day after the release of a 61-year-old man who had spent nearly five years in prison. Fariba Dalir's release last night follows that of Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh the night before, which itself came just two days after a "hellish night" of fire and gunfire at the notorious prison. Fariba spent over 200 days in detention, including more than a month in solitary confinement after her initial arrest in July last year. She had been in Evin Prison since Easter Saturday. Fariba, her husband Soroush, and daughter Arezoo, who is in her early twenties, are said to be overjoyed at their reunion, while also recognising the increasingly difficult and dangerous predicament facing those who remain in the prison. Reacting to the news, Article18's director, Mansour Borji, said: “While we celebrate the recent release of Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh and Fariba Dalir, we remain deeply concerned for the health and security of all those who remain in Evin Prison, including at least 10 Christian prisoners of conscience. Article18 knows of at least 10 Christian prisoners of conscience still in Evin, and a further eight in other prisons...
  • Christian convert freed after nearly five years in Evin Prison
    Christian prisoner of conscience Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh has been freed after nearly five years in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Nasser was told earlier today that he had been “pardoned”.  He called his family soon afterwards to tell them the surprising news and to ask them to collect him from the prison.  He is now finally safely back at home, and hopes to see his elderly mother tomorrow.  Nasser had been in Evin Prison since January 2018 and was serving a 10-year prison sentence for “acting against national security” by belonging to a house-church. During his nearly 2,000 days in prison, Nasser filed several requests for a retrial or parole, as well as writing numerous open letters querying how membership of a house-church could be considered an “action against national security”. But these petitions, and even an emotional plea last year from his elderly mother for her son’s release, all fell on deaf ears. Until finally, today, 440 days after his mother’s video, Nasser was told he had been “pardoned”. Nasser’s release comes just two days after chaotic scenes in the prison, as fire spread through Ward 7, claiming the lives of at least four prisoners.  Gunfire was also heard, while...
  • ‘Hellish night’ as Evin Prison set on fire, gunshots heard
    A fire at a Tehran prison housing hundreds of political prisoners, including a dozen Christians, caused widespread alarm on Saturday night, claiming at least four lives. Many more are believed to have been injured as a result of the fire at Evin Prison, whose cause has not yet been established, while it is widely believed that the state TV’s official death toll - at first reported at 40, before hastily being reduced to four - is likely to be well short of the true figure. The sound of gunfire and videos showing projectiles being thrown into the prison, resulting in explosions, increased alarm among all those with loved ones inside.  https://twitter.com/mansourborji/status/1581365283373346817 A family member of one imprisoned Christian told Article18: “It was a hellish night for us. We were completely in the dark about what was happening. Then, when we were finally able to speak, we heard the sound of shooting and then the phone was disconnected. We wept until the morning.” The chaotic scenes took place as protests continue across the country in the wake of the death in custody of a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for “improper” wearing of her headscarf. In the...
  • Iranian-Armenian pastor begins 10-year prison sentence
    An Iranian-Armenian pastor has today begun serving a 10-year prison sentence for holding church services in his home. Joseph Shahbazian, who is 58 years old, was yesterday given 24 hours to hand himself in to the authorities at Tehran’s Evin Prison, and did so today at around midday, Iranian time. Meanwhile, a Christian convert sentenced to six years in prison for her involvement in Joseph’s “house-church” was given a stay of execution, because she is still recovering from a broken leg. Mina Khajavi, who is 59 years old, also received a summons to prison yesterday, but was today told by the prison authorities that she could return home until she has recovered. Mina’s leg was broken in three places as a result of a recent car accident, and she was only released from her cast two days ago. The authorities at Evin told her that a government-certified doctor must now review her medical records and confirm her condition, upon which she may be given up to six weeks’ recovery time before being required to serve her sentence. Two other Christian converts, mother and daughter Masoumeh Ghasemi and Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh, were also summoned yesterday to pay within 24 hours fines...
  • Christians lose appeal against imprisonment and fines for house-church activities
    Left to right: Malihe Nazari, Mina Khajavi, Joseph Shahbazian, Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh, and Masoumeh Ghasemi. An Iranian court of appeal has upheld the sentences of five Christians facing a total of 22 years in prison and the equivalent of $2,225 in fines for their involvement in house-churches. Joseph Shahbazian, 58, a “recognised” Christian of Armenian descent, faces 10 years in prison, and Christian converts Mina Khajavi, 59, and Malihe Nazari, 49, six years. Meanwhile, mother and daughter Masoumeh Ghasemi and Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh, who are also converts, must pay fines of 24 million ($950) and 40 million ($1,275) tomans respectively. The other two converts in the case - Salar Eshraghi Moghadam and Farhad Khazaee, who were sentenced to four and one years in prison, respectively - were not part of the appeal. All seven Christians were convicted in June of "forming and operating illegal organisations [house-churches] with the aim of disrupting the security of the country". Judges Abasali Hozavan and Khosrow Khalili Mehdiyarji of the 36th Branch of the Appeal Court of Tehran said the defence had failed to meet the necessary criteria for the appeal to be considered. But their lawyer, Iman Soleimani, told Article18 the judgment had been...
  • Iranian Christian with Parkinson’s disease and wife detained
    An Iranian Christian convert with advanced Parkinson’s disease and his wife have been detained in Tehran. Homayoun Zhaveh, who is about to celebrate his 64th birthday, and Sara Ahmadi, 44, answered a summons to an administrative office of Evin Prison on Saturday, expecting to receive back their confiscated property.  However, they were instead surprisingly detained, and remain in custody two days later. Little more is known about their situation, other than that Homayoun has been able to call other relatives to ask them to come to Evin Prison to collect the car they arrived in. Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, expressed his dismay and concern at the surprising development, which comes more than a year after the couple’s last summons to prison, after which they were told they could return home. “We can only speculate about why this has happened,” Mr Borji said, “but it is nevertheless extremely concerning that an elderly man with an extremely serious health condition has been detained, and there is every chance, unfortunately, that the stress of their detention will make Homayoun’s condition worse. “We call on the Iranian authorities to immediately release both Homayoun and Sara, who is not only his wife but also...
  • Christian convert arrested, detained in Karaj on unknown charges
    A Christian convert from Karaj, near Tehran, has been arrested and remains in detention on unknown charges.  Mohammad Golbaz, who is 34 years old, was arrested at his motorcycle repair shop on Saturday, 30 July, by more than a dozen plainclothes intelligence agents. He was then transferred to an unknown location and held incommunicado until finally being able to make a short telephone call to his parents on Wednesday, 3 August. The arresting agents had initially searched Mohammad’s parents’ home, insisting that their son was there, and confiscating a framed picture of Jesus, which was in their possession even though they are not Christians themselves. When the agents had satisfied themselves that Mohammad was not there, they went to his shop, arrested him, and took him to his home to search it, before transporting him to an unknown location. Nothing more is known at this stage about any charges brought against Mohammad, nor the reason he is still being detained. Loved ones who went to enquire about him at the local prosecutor’s office were told only that he is an “apostate” and will be held “for a while”. Mohammad is single, and lives alone.
  • Supreme Court denies Christians retrial
    Left to right: Maryam (Khadijeh) Mohammadi, Anooshavan Avedian, and Abbas Soori. Three Iranian Christians have been informed that the Supreme Court has refused to review their sentences of prison and exile for “propaganda contrary to and disturbing to the holy religion of Islam”. Anooshavan Avedian, a 60-year-old Iranian-Armenian, faces 10 years in prison, while Christian converts Abbas Soori and Maryam Mohammadi, who are both in their mid-forties, must spend two years in internal exile, outside their home province of Tehran or any adjacent provinces.  The two converts have also been banned from travelling abroad for two years, or membership of any social or political group, and forced to pay fines of 6m tomans ($190) for possessing satellite television receivers. Anooshavan, meanwhile, faces 10-year’s “deprivation of social rights” following his release from prison, affecting for example any future employment opportunities. Anooshavan and Abbas were informed of the rejection of their request for a retrial yesterday, while Maryam heard on 16 July. The lawyer for Annoshavan and Abbas, Iman Soleimani, said the Supreme Court had rejected his client’s request out of hand, without even taking the time to look through the many documents he had provided. In ruling not to give a retrial...
  • Grandfather with cancer among four Christians arrested in Neyshabur
    A grandfather in his late fifties who has cancer is one of four Christian converts still detained more than three weeks after their arrest at a house-church gathering in a conservative Shia Muslim region of northeast Iran. Gholamreza Keyvanmanesh is being held in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, a holy city for Shiites, two hours’ drive from Neyshabur, where the arrests took place on Sunday 26 June. The other three - two women and another man in their forties and fifties, whose names cannot be reported - are being held in Neyshabur Prison. Article18 understands the four Christians are facing charges of “acting against national security through propaganda against the regime” and “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy). At least another eight Christians were also present at the meeting and though they were not detained by the arresting agents - members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who are becoming ever more frequently involved in arrests of Christians - they were told to soon expect a summons for further questioning. They were also forced to sign commitments to refrain from gathering with other Christians.  Bibles and mobile phones were among the items confiscated from the church members. Little more is known about...
  • Converts face second trial on identical charges
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three house-church members already facing five years in prison for “engaging in propaganda and education of deviant beliefs contrary to the holy Sharia” have today been informed they must return to court next week to face a second trial on identical charges. Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh, who were only sentenced in April, were re-arrested in May, before their appeals in their initial case had even been rejected, and they remain in detention in Lakan Prison in Rasht, northern Iran. Now they have been told their second trial will take place next Tuesday, 19 July, at the same court that sentenced them the first time, the 2nd Branch of the Revolutionary Court of Rasht.  Ahmad, Morteza and Ayoob, all members of the controversial “Church of Iran” denomination, gave their final defence last week via video link from prison. During that hearing, on 5 July, the three men presented an almost identical argument to their previous final defence in February, when they stated they were “just Christians worshipping according to the Bible” and “have not engaged in any propaganda against the regime or any action against national security”.  This...
  • Convert fined and deprived of social rights for teaching others about Christianity
    A Christian convert has been fined and “deprived of social rights” for five years for “engaging in educational activities contrary to the holy religion of Islam by establishing house-churches”. Rahmat Rostamipour, 49, must pay 6 million tomans (around $185) now and a further 18 million should he “re-offend” in the next two years.  He is the latest Iranian Christian to fall foul of Iran’s amended Article 500 of the penal code, which allows charges to be brought for educating others in a way deemed “contrary to Islam”. Three house-church members from Karaj are already serving three-year sentences under the new law, and three others from Rasht face five years in prison. In Rahmat’s case, the court verdict issued on 21 May by Branch 102 of the Civil Court of Bandar Anzali states that Rahmat was found to have engaged in “propaganda” because of “messaging others about Christianity”, “teaching the religion of Christianity”, and as a result of “his own clear confession that he has held Christian house-churches”. And although the fine issued for Rahmat is relatively light, 6 million tomans equates to around one month’s wages in Iran at the moment, and he now has a criminal record. Background  Rahmat...
  • Mother-of-three refused access to prison scheme allowing more time with children
    The women's ward of Lakan Prison in Rasht (Photo: Mojnews) An Iranian mother-of-three serving a two-year sentence for “spreading ‘Zionist’ Christianity” has been denied access to a scheme that would have allowed her to spend most of her time outside prison working and with her children. Sakine (Mehri) Behjati, who began serving her sentence in April, was hoping she may be able to serve the remainder of her sentence as an unpaid worker at a factory designated by her prison in Rasht, northern Iran, while also being able to see her children more. But she has now been informed that, despite positive signals from officials at Lakan Prison, her request to join the scheme was refused by the prosecutor’s office in Tehran. “Mehri was hoping she may be viewed more mercifully because of her children,” explains Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji. “But she has been told she must stay in prison. It's a blow for her, having wanted to be able to see and spend more time with them.” Mehri’s three children are aged seven, 11 and 16.  Background Mehri was one of four members of a “Church of Iran” house-church arrested in Rasht in February 2020, including her nephew,...
  • Convert’s continued imprisonment a ‘deterrent’ to other Christians, says lawyer
    An Iranian Christian prisoner of conscience recently adopted by the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief has been denied parole for a fifth time. Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, who is 60 years old, has been in prison since January 2018, serving a 10-year sentence for “acting against national security by establishing house-churches”. He is eligible for release on parole having served well over one-third of his sentence, but all requests for either parole or a reduction in his sentence have been denied. His lawyer, Iman Soleimani, says he has been told that Nasser is being held as a “deterrent” to other Christians, and that it is believed that to release him ahead of time would send out the wrong message. Nasser has suffered several health issues during his incarceration and was recently sent for an MRI scan after losing hearing in his left ear, which also affected his balance and led to a number of falls. His elderly mother also recorded an emotional plea on video a year ago for her son and primary carer to be returned to her side, but he remains in prison. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9yZv_Kn1x8 Article18 calls on Iran to free Nasser Navard and all other Christians detained only as a result...
  • Youhan Omidi returns home from four years’ prison and exile
    After two years in prison and nearly two more in internal exile over 1,000km from his home and family - not to mention being flogged for drinking Communion wine - Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi is finally free, at least for now. The 49-year-old, who begun his exile in September 2020, four weeks after concluding a two-year prison sentence for “acting against national security by propagating house-churches and promoting 'Zionist' Christianity”, was on 6 June told he could return home for 14 days’ leave, after which his term in exile would be considered complete. He is now finally back home in Rasht, northern Iran, with his wife Maryam, and daughters Sara and Sandra, after completing his final 15-hour journey from his city of exile in the far south, Borazjan. Youhan was one of four house-church leaders from the “Church of Iran” denomination to be sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2017, alongside Yousef Nadarkhani, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie and Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh. In June 2020, Youhan’s sentence was reduced at a retrial to two years and Saheb and Yousef’s to six. Yasser, who had not applied for a retrial, was granted conditional release in February 2021 on the proviso he engaged...
  • Anooshavan Avedian awaits imprisonment as converts summoned to Tehran prosecutor  
    Left to right: Maryam (Khadijeh) Mohammadi, Anooshavan Avedian, and Abbas Soori. A 60-year-old Iranian-Armenian Christian is awaiting a summons to begin his 10-year prison sentence for “engaging in propaganda contrary to and disturbing to the holy religion of Islam”. This comes after his case, and that of two Christian converts facing exile from their home city of Tehran, was sent to the court responsible for executing judgements. The two converts, Maryam Mohammadi, 46, and Abbas Soori, 45, have already been summoned to the prosecutor’s office in Tehran for the execution of their sentences, meaning that it seems only a matter of time before Anooshavan is also called. The three Christians were sentenced in April, and their appeals rejected in May, though Abbas and Maryam’s 10-year deprivation of social rights was removed from their sentence and their fines for being in possession of satellite receivers were reduced from 50m tomans ($2,000) to 6m tomans ($190) each. The Christians’ lawyer, Iman Soleimani, has appealed to the Supreme Court for a retrial, but this does not block the execution of their sentences. Mr Soleimani earlier voiced his dismay that his clients’ appeals were rejected in absentia, despite pleading for their case to be heard...
  • Confiscated Church-owned retreat centre set to be repurposed
    Photographs showing some of the Christian events that took place at the retreat centre, and of the confiscation order. A Protestant Church-owned retreat centre appropriated four years ago by an institution headed by Iran’s Supreme Leader is now in the process of being repurposed, Article18 understands.  The Garden of Sharon in Karaj, which has belonged to the Iranian Assemblies of God (AoG) denomination since the early 1970s, has been out of use since a July 2015 court order by a Tehran Revolutionary Court, though it took a further three years for the confiscation to be officially enacted. Now, another four years on, the former retreat centre - beloved by many in the Iranian Church - looks set to become the latest emblem of Protestant Christianity in Iran to be given a facelift. It follows the bishop’s house in Isfahan, former home to the Anglican bishop of Iran, which earlier this year was turned into a museum, and the many other formerly church-run institutions - such as hospitals, schools and institutions for the blind - to have been radically reshaped in the years since the 1979 Islamic revolution. According to Article18’s sources, security forces broke into the main building of the...
  • Converts’ five-year prison sentences for ‘deviant beliefs’ upheld
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh Three house-church members who have been held for over a month in solitary confinement have now been informed that their appeals against five-year prison sentences have been rejected. Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh, all members of the “Church of Iran” in Rasht, were re-arrested early last month, despite already facing imprisonment for “engaging in propaganda and education of deviant beliefs contrary to the holy Sharia”, under the amended Article 500 of the penal code. Now their lawyer, Iman Soleimani, has confirmed that the trio’s appeals have been flatly rejected, commenting: “No attention was paid to the defence, or to the fact that these clients, with no criminal records and young families, were re-arrested before the outcome of their appeal, without committing a crime, and are currently being held in solitary confinement.”  Ahmad, Ayoob and Morteza are currently in the hands of intelligence agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), who were responsible for their re-arrest. Article18 understands the three men were told that the reason for their re-arrest was that they had continued their religious activities, and therefore had been brought to “consider their actions in private”....
  • Christian prisoner of conscience awaiting results of MRI scan
    There are renewed concerns over the health of a 60-year-old Christian convert, who has spent the past four and a half years in Tehran’s Evin Prison because of his membership of a house-church. Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence on trumped-up charges of “acting against national security”, was last week admitted to a nearby hospital for treatment on hearing loss in his left ear, which has also affected his mobility and led to several falls.  Nasser is now awaiting the outcome of an MRI scan, with results expected this week.  Nasser remains deeply frustrated at the continued refusal of Evin’s chief prosecutor to grant him either conditional release, a reduction in his sentence, or a retrial, despite repeated pleas during his imprisonment.  Last year, his elderly mother recorded an impassioned video message, calling on the authorities to reunite her with her son and primary carer, but it appears her appeal fell on dear ears. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9yZv_Kn1x8&t=2s And this is not the first health scare during Nasser’s time in prison, Nasser also having fallen seriously in amidst a Covid-19 outbreak within his ward, and earlier being warned his teeth may fall out as a result of advanced gum...
  • Seven Iranian Christians sentenced to total of 32 years in prison
    Malihe Nazari (left), Joseph Shahbazian and Mina Khajavi face a combined 22 years in prison. An Iranian-Armenian pastor has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and two Christian women converts to six years for their leadership roles within house-churches. The Iranian-Armenian, Joseph Shahbazian, also faces a two-year term in exile in a remote province in the southeast of Iran following his incarceration, and a two-year ban on travelling abroad or membership of any social or political group. Joseph must also report to the offices of Iran’s intelligence service for two years after his release on an unspecified “seasonal basis”. The four other Christian converts in the case - Salar Eshraghi Moghadam, Farhad Khazaee, Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh and her mother Masoumeh Ghasemi - were sentenced to between one and four years’ imprisonment for membership of house-churches, but permitted to pay fines (equivalent to between $800-$1,250 each) instead of going to prison. However, there was no such clemency for Joseph, who is 58 years old, nor for the two other converts, Mina Khajavi, who is 59, and Malihe Nazari, 49, who could not attend the court hearing on 29 May because she was visiting her son, who has leukaemia, in hospital. Judge...
  • House-church leader loses appeal as seven other Christians await verdict 
    Left to right: Maryam (Khadijeh) Mohammadi, Anooshavan Avedian, and Abbas Soori. An appeal court has upheld a 10-year prison sentence for a house-church leader issued by a notorious judge.  Anooshavan Avedian, an Iranian-Armenian Christian, faces 10 years in prison for teaching Christianity, or what Judge Iman Afshari called “propaganda contrary to and disturbing to the holy religion of Islam”. He was sentenced in April alongside two of the members of his house-church, Abbas Soori, 45, and Maryam Mohammadi, 46, who are both converts to Christianity. Despite repeated requests by Anooshavan’s lawyer, Iman Soleimani, for the appeal hearing to take place in person, the ruling was made in absentia.  In the verdict, which was communicated to Mr Soleimani on Sunday 29 May, Judge Abbasali Hozan of Branch 36 of Tehran's appeal court upheld Anooshavan's 10-year sentence, as well as the subsequent 10 years’ “deprivation of social rights” after his release, meaning that the type of employment he will be able to have upon release will be restricted. However, Abbas and Maryam's own 10-year deprivation of social deprivation was removed and their fines for being in possession of satellite receivers reduced from 50m tomans ($2,000) to 6m tomans ($190) each. According to Mr Soleimani, at least seven folders...
  • House-church members still detained, families told upcoming appeal doomed
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three house-church members already facing five-year prison sentences remain in detention more than a week after they were re-arrested. Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh and Ahmad Sarparast were arrested following raids by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence agents on their homes on 8 May.  Morteza Mashoodkari, who was not present when his home was raided, was detained two days later after being ordered to hand himself in. The families of the three men are concerned for their safety and wellbeing, having heard nothing from them since they were detained. Furthermore, after demanding news from the 4th Branch of the Prosecutor’s Office in Rasht, the families were told their loved one’s appeals against their five-year sentences had been rejected, even though the official hearing has yet to take place. That hearing is scheduled to take place at Branch 18 of the Appeal Court of Gilan Province on Monday (23 May).  Ayoob, Ahmad and Morteza, all members of the “Church of Iran” in the northern city of Rasht, were sentenced last month under the amended Article 500 of the penal code to five years in prison for “engaging in propaganda and education of deviant...
  • Converts already facing charges re-arrested in Rasht
    Left to right: Behnam Akhlaghi, Morteza Mashoodkari, Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh, Ahmad Sarparast, and Babak Hosseinzadeh. Four "Church of Iran" members already facing criminal charges relating to the practice of their faith, with two having spent over two years in prison, were re-arrested last night, while a fifth was ordered to hand himself in today. Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Ahmad Sarparast, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh were arrested at their homes last night by intelligence agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and taken to an IRGC detention centre. Morteza Mashoodkari was not present when the agents came to his home, but was told today to submit himself to the authorities and, having presented himself at the General Court of Gilan Province, told to return tomorrow.* Behnam and Babak were released from detention this afternoon, but Ahmad and Ayoob remain detained in an unknown location and it is feared they may now face fresh charges. Behnam and Babak are already facing charges of “propaganda against the state”, given to them in February - just two weeks after they were among nine converts acquitted of “acting against national security” by “promoting Zionist Christianity”. Ahmad, Morteza and Ayoob, meanwhile, were sentenced last month under the...
  • 10-year sentence for Iranian-Armenian for ‘disturbing’ Christian teaching
    An Iranian-Armenian Christian faces 10 years in prison for teaching other Christians in his home, or what a notorious judge called “propaganda contrary to and disturbing to the holy religion of Islam”. Anooshavan Avedian, who will celebrate his 60th birthday on Saturday, was sentenced last month alongside two of the members of his house-church, Abbas Soori, 45, and Maryam Mohammadi, 46, who are both converts to Christianity and who received a range of non-custodial punishments. In addition to his 10-year sentence, Anooshavan also faces 10 years’ “deprivation of social rights” after his release, for example by restricting the types of employment he can have. Abbas and Maryam were also handed this 10-year deprivation, as well as two-year bans on any travel abroad, membership of any political or social group, and also of residence in their home province of Tehran or any adjacent province.  The exile from Tehran is a particularly heavy blow for Maryam, who runs a workshop in the Tehran area and has built up a local clientele. The two converts were also fined 50 million tomans ($2,000) each and told they must regularly report to the offices of the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS). All three Christians have appealed...
  • Illegally detained pastor returns to prison after first furlough in four years
    Arbitrarily detained pastor Yousef Nadarkhani must return to Tehran’s Evin Prison today after enjoying his first visit home in nearly four years. The pastor, once sentenced to death for "apostasy", has been serving a 10-year sentence – later reduced to six years – since July 2018 for “acting against national security by propagating house-churches and promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity”. On 15 April he was given his very first break from prison, a week’s furlough on bail of 300 million tomans (around $11,500), which was later extended by a further seven days, for which he was eligible having never previously taken any leave. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which this week recommended to the State Department that Iran continue to be designated a “Country of Particular Concern” for “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”, welcomed Yousef’s furlough but called for his permanent release. In a statement posted at the start of the furlough, USCIRF chair Nadine Maenza said: “Pastor Nadarkhani’s furlough is a welcome development following years of detention and a serious illness in Evin Prison.  “We call on Iran to fully release Pastor Nadarkhani and all other individuals serving prison sentences on the basis of their religious beliefs.” Yousef...
  • Second woman convert began prison sentence on Easter Saturday
    A second Iranian woman convert began a two-year prison sentence on Easter Saturday on charges related to the practice of her faith. Sakine (Mehri) Behjati handed herself in to the authorities at Evin Prison in Tehran on the same day as Fariba Dalir, and both are now serving two-year sentences on similar charges. Mehri was later permitted a transfer to Lakan Prison in her home city of Rasht, so she could be closer to her children. Who is Mehri Behjati? Mehri was one of four converts first arrested in February 2020 for their membership of a house-church in Rasht. The four - also Mehri’s nephew Hadi (Moslem) Rahimi and married couple Ramin Hassanpour and Kathrin (Saeede) Sajadpour - were officially charged in May 2020 and taken to Lakan Prison after being unable to afford the bail set for them – of 500 million tomans (around $30,000). They were eventually released a week later on reduced bail of 200 million tomans ($11,500). The converts were sentenced in August 2020 to between two and five years in prison for “acting against national security” by belonging to a house-church and “spreading Zionist Christianity”. Ramin was given a five-year sentence, Moslem four years, and Mehri...
  • Christian convert arrested in Anzali, family in distress
    A Christian convert in Iran was arrested after a dozen plainclothes agents from the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) raided his house, confiscating several Bibles.  Rahmat Rostamipour, 49, was driven away in a convoy of four cars at 8am on Monday, 18 April, from his home in Anzali, a city in the north of the country. As well as confiscating the Bibles, the agents also took possession of the family’s phones, ID cards, a number of books, and some tablets used by the couple’s children for school, before taking Rahmat into custody.  The authorities made it clear they also intended to arrest Rahmat’s wife, Azar, but refrained from doing so because the raid brought on a panic attack in the couple’s teenage daughter. However, Azar was summoned to the MOIS Office in Anzali the following day, 19 April, and returned home after hours of interrogation. The couple have not been formally charged, but during Azar’s questioning she was informally accused of "propaganda against the regime through involvement in house-church activities". Iranian authorities consider house-church gatherings outside their sphere of control as "illegal". The couple’s 13-year-old teenage son was also present during the raid.  Iran is number nine on Open Doors’ World Watch List,...
  • Christian woman convert begins two-year prison sentence
    A 51-year-old woman Christian convert today began serving a two-year prison sentence in Tehran's Evin prison for “acting against national security by establishing and leading an Evangelical Christian church”. Fariba Dalir, whose case has not been reported until now, was one of six converts arrested in Tehran in July last year, including her fiancé at the time and now husband, Soroush. Five of the Christians were sentenced in December - Fariba to two years, and the other four, including Soroush, to 10 months for membership of the church. However, due to time already spent in detention, these four were told they could instead choose to pay fines of 5 million tomans each (around $250) to escape further imprisonment. The sixth Christian, a 17-year-old girl, was released without charge, but only after spending 10 days in solitary confinement, and being subjected to intense interrogations in a detention centre of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Fariba and Soroush themselves each spent over a month in solitary confinement at the detention centre following their arrests on 19 July 2021 - Fariba at a hair salon, and Soroush while driving his car. Three of the other Christians, including the 17-year-old and another woman and her...
  • Converts given five-year sentences for ‘deviant propaganda’ 
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three converts have been sentenced to five years in prison for “engaging in propaganda and education of deviant beliefs contrary to the holy Sharia” and “connections with foreign leaders”. Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh were informed of the verdict on Saturday at Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court in Rasht. The three men, who were also fined 18 million tomans (around $750), were convicted under the amended Article 500 of Iran’s penal code following legal proceedings that were later heavily criticised by their lawyer, Iman Soleimani. Mr Soleimani, who accompanied the men to court to receive the verdict, complained that his clients had been convicted only on the basis of the claims of intelligence agents of the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC); that the judge, Mohammad Hossein Hosseinpour, had also taken on the role of accuser; and that there was no legal justification for the sentences, as his clients’ only “crime” had been to meet together for prayer and worship. A religious assembly, Mr Soleimani said, could not be considered an “action against the state”, while although Iran’s constitution forbids “inquisition” into a person’s beliefs, the judge’s very first...
  • Anglican bishop of Iran’s official residence turned into a museum
    The bishop's house is now a museum, flanked on one side by flags of the Islamic Republic, and with pictures of Iran's two Supreme Leaders, Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, outside the front door. (Photo: Twitter @Alireza_E_1999) The official residence and family home of the former Anglican bishop of Iran is now a museum. Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti was forced out of Iran in the year of the Islamic revolution of 1979, his son murdered, and his house and several other church-owned properties confiscated.  In the decades before the revolution, the Anglican Church had been responsible for a number of well-respected schools, hospitals and institutions for the blind, many of which were situated within the same complex as the bishop’s house. However, in the years that followed many of these institutions were confiscated and later either left empty for years or repurposed.  In the same way, the bishop’s house in Isfahan had been empty for many years following its confiscation until, in late 2020, it became apparent that it had been taken over and was about to be repurposed by a rich foundation owned by Iran's Supreme Leader. The Mostazafan Foundation purportedly exists to support the poor – “mostazafan” literally translates as...
  • Supreme Court summarily dismisses Christian convert’s long-awaited retrial bid
    Only one day after nine Christian converts were acquitted of “acting against national security” by worshipping in house-churches, another Christian convert serving a 10-year sentence on very similar grounds has been denied his own retrial. Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, who is 60 years old, has served over four years of his 10-year prison sentence for “acting against national security with the intention to overthrow the regime”, due to alleged links to churches and Christian organisations abroad. Ever since his imprisonment in January 2018, Nasser has been appealing to a higher court for a retrial, writing several open letters to query the charges against him, including asking how membership of a house-church could be viewed as an action against national security. “Is the fellowship of a few Christian brothers and sisters in someone’s home, singing worship songs, reading the Bible and worshiping God acting against national security?” he asked in one letter. “Isn’t it in fact a clear violation of civil and human rights, and an absolute injustice, to receive a 10-year prison sentence just for organising house-churches, which are a sanctuary sanctified as a place to praise and worship God due to closure of churches in Iran?” Finally, after three rejections...
  • Case closed: Converts’ house-church worship was not ‘action against national security’
    Clockwise from top-left: Mohammad Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar, Behnam Akhlaghi, Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Khalil Dehghanpour, Babak Hosseinzadeh, and Mehdi Khatibi. Nine converts who spent a combined nearly 20 years in prison for “acting against national security” and “promoting Zionist Christianity” have been acquitted by a Tehran appeal court. The ruling by Branch 34 of the Tehran Court of Appeal, issued and communicated to the nine men today, comes after a Supreme Court judge ordered a review of their convictions in November. The converts were subsequently released, pending the outcome of the review, though one of them is already back in prison serving a separate sentence related to his faith and activities, and two others have been handed new charges. In their ruling, the appeal court judges, Seyed Ali Asghar Kamali and Akbar Johari, found there was “insufficient evidence” the men had acted against national security, referencing their lawyers’ explanation that they had only “worshipped in the house-church in accordance with the teachings of Christianity” and that Christians are taught to live in “obedience, submission and support of the authorities”. The judges also noted the legal principle of “interpreting any doubt in favour of the accused”, as well...
  • Four Christians unwell after suspected Covid-19 outbreak in Evin Prison
    Left to right: Moslem Rahimi, Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Yousef Nadarkhani, and Saheb Fadaie. Four Christian prisoners of conscience in Tehran’s Evin Prison have fallen ill in recent days following a suspected Covid-19 outbreak within their ward.  Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, who is 60 years old, Yousef Nadarkhani, 44, Saheb Fadaie, 40, and Moslem Rahimi, 32, have not been tested for the virus but have all experienced symptoms, with Nasser’s especially severe though now improving. The four Christians are all in Hall 8 of Ward 8 of Evin Prison, which accommodates around 250 prisoners in total, including around 60 in Hall 8. No Covid safety measures, such as quarantining or tests, are being observed in the prison, though the majority of prisoners have now been vaccinated. There has long been criticism of a lack of medical care and sanitation in Iran's prisons, including Evin, with prisoners showing Covid symptoms often left alone on their beds for days, before being sent to the prison doctor to receive a solitary painkiller and then sent back to bed. This lack of care was viewed by many as a contributing factor in the recent death of another prisoner of conscience, writer Baktash Abtin, who contracted Covid-19...
  • ‘We are just Christians worshipping according to the Bible,’ say converts in last defence
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three converts facing up to 10 years in prison for alleged “deviant propaganda” and ties with foreign organisations have denied all the charges against them and said they are “just Christians worshipping according to the Bible”.  Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh, who were giving their last defence this morning at Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court of Rasht, in northern Iran, added that they "have not engaged in any propaganda against the regime or any action against national security". They also denied receiving any funds from abroad, while their lawyer, Iman Soleimani, told the court the accusations against the three men, who are all part of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran”, were based only on the information provided by intelligence agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and nothing else.  The case has now been sent back to the prosecutor’s office, which must decide whether there is any grounds for a conviction. Background Ahmad, Morteza and Ayoob, who were first arrested in September 2021, are the second group of converts to face charges under Article 500 of the penal code since it was amended last year. In...
  • Converts absolved by Supreme Court now face ‘propaganda’ charges
    Behnam Akhlaghi (left) and Babak Hosseinzadeh. Two of the nine converts cleared by a Supreme Court judge of “acting against national security” have now been charged with “propaganda against the state”. Just six weeks after they were released from prison pending a review of their five-year sentences, Behnam Akhlaghi and Babak Hosseinzadeh were summoned last week to see a Tehran prosecutor, who on Saturday told them to return today with pay slips so they could be officially charged and released on bail. The new charges come just one week ahead of the review of their five-year sentences - and those of the seven others imprisoned alongside them - scheduled to take place on 22 February at Branch 34 of Tehran’s appeal court. The appeal court judge must decide whether to uphold the Revolutionary Court’s initial decision in October 2019 to imprison the men for their membership of house-churches, or whether to side with the Supreme Court judge who ruled in November 2021 that “merely preaching Christianity” or even promoting the “Evangelical Zionist sect” does not amount to an “action against national security”. The case has the potential to impact all other current and future cases involving Persian-speaking Christians. However, early...
  • Converts summoned to begin prison sentences for ‘spreading “Zionist” Christianity’
    Three converts from the northern city of Rasht have been summoned to begin serving prison sentences of between two and five years for “acting against national security” by attending a house-church and “spreading ‘Zionist’ Christianity”. Ramin Hassanpour, his wife Saeede, and another woman, Sakine (Mehri) Behjati, have until the end of February to hand themselves in to Branch 1 of the Office for the Execution of Judgments in Tehran’s 33rd district. The two women are to serve two-year sentences, while Ramin’s sentence is five years. A fourth member of their group, Hadi (Moslem) Rahimi, is already serving his own four-year sentence. The four, all members of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran”, were first arrested in February 2020. In May 2020, they spent a week in Lakan Prison in Rasht, having been unable to afford the 500 million toman bail ($30,000) set for them after the charges against them were read out at Branch 10 of the Revolutionary Court in Rasht. They were eventually released on reduced bail of 200 million tomans ($11,500). However, they were sentenced in August 2020, and their appeals were rejected in September 2020. Moslem, who has a 10-month-old daughter, began serving his sentence exactly one month...
  • Converts charged with ‘deviant propaganda’ under amended Article 500
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three converts from the northern city of Rasht are the latest to be charged under last year’s controversial amendments to Article 500 of the penal code, and could now face up to 10 years in prison. Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh, Ahmad Sarparast, and Morteza Mashoodkari were officially charged last Tuesday, 25 January, with “engaging in propaganda and educational activities for deviant beliefs contrary to the holy Sharia", and "connections with foreign leaders". The charges are lifted directly from the amended Article 500, which was expanded last year to include the vaguely-defined “deviant educational activities contrary to Islam”, which has already been used against several other converts, including three from Karaj now serving three-year prison sentences. Article 500 has long been used in the prosecution of Christian converts, but since last year’s amendments the terms under which charges can be brought are now much looser, and the maximum punishment has also increased from one to five years, or even 10 years in cases where the defendants are found to have received “financial or organisational help from abroad”. And the fear now is that Ayoob, Ahmad and Morteza may face the stiffest possible punishment,...
  • Converts cleared of any crime must now attend ‘re-education’ classes
    Left to right: Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, Esmaeil Narimanpour, and Alireza Varak-Shah, four of the eight Christian converts cleared of any criminal offence. A group of Christian converts cleared of any wrongdoing in November are now being forced to undertake “re-education” classes in the Islamic faith. The Christians, from the western city of Dezful, were called by intelligence agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) late on Friday night and told they must come to see them the next morning. Some of the Christians - 10 in all, including the eight who were cleared in November of any crime - went as instructed, at 10am on Saturday, despite their lawyer telling them it was against the law to be summoned over the phone. “I told my clients not to go, and to say, ‘We have a lawyer, so summon us legally,’” Iman Soleimani explained. “But they were anxious and worried.” Those who didn’t attend the meeting were then called and asked why they hadn’t. The Christians were then informed that, as they had been “misled”, 10 sessions with Islamic clerics would soon be arranged, to “guide them back onto the right path”. A growing trend As highlighted...
  • Date set for historic appeal hearing
    Clockwise from top-left: Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Mehdi Khatibi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Hossein Kadivar, Mohammad Vafadar, Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, Behnam Akhlaghi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Kamal Naamanian Eight of the nine converts recently released from prison pending a review of their case have been told their appeal will be heard next month. The eight men - Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammad Vafadar - were informed yesterday by SMS that their appeal will be heard on 22 February at Branch 34 of Tehran’s appeal court. The only member of the group not to have been summoned is Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, who just two weeks after his release was sent back to prison to serve a separate six-year sentence, of which he had been acquitted seven years previously. Before their release at the turn of the year, the nine men had been serving five-year sentences for “acting against national security” by “promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity”.  But on 3 November Branch 28 of the Supreme Court ruled that “merely preaching Christianity, and promoting the ‘Evangelical Zionist sect’, both of which apparently means propagating Christianity through family gatherings [house-churches] is not a manifestation of gathering and collusion to disrupt the security of...
  • Iran’s Supreme Court agrees to review Christian convert’s 10-year prison sentence
    Iran’s Supreme Court has finally agreed to review the case of a Christian convert serving a 10-year prison sentence for “acting against national security” through his involvement in a house-church. Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh has spent the past four years in Tehran’s Evin Prison, and during that time has pleaded on numerous occasions for a review of his case, only to be repeatedly refused. He has also twice appealed for parole, having served more than one-third of his sentence. Again, these appeals were both rejected, after objections from the Ministry of Intelligence. But now Nasser’s lawyer, Iman Soleimani, has confirmed his latest appeal for a review of his client’s sentence has been accepted by Branch 9 of the Supreme Court. It is not yet known when Nasser’s case will be heard, and there is of course no guarantee the court will rule in his favour, but the news is still most welcome for the 60-year-old prisoner of conscience, who has grown increasingly frustrated about his situation in recent months. On his birthday in August last year, Nasser’s elderly mother, for whom Nasser was the primary carer before his imprisonment, recorded an emotional plea for her son’s release, saying she was “very...
  • Isfahan brothers still missing after Christmas arrest
    Mahmoud Mardani-Kharaji (left) and his brother Mansour. Two brothers remain missing more than a month after their arrest at a Christmas gathering near Isfahan. Mansour Mardani-Kharaji, 42, and his brother Mahmoud, 40, were with around eight other Christians at a house-church meeting in Fooladshahr on 22 December when the celebration was raided by plainclothes officials, who showed no warrant and did not state which agency they came from. Iranian Christian website Mohabat News, which reported the news earlier today, explained to Article18 that Mansour and Mahmoud’s family members, not knowing which agency was responsible for their arrest, have only been threatened and mocked by the local officials they have spoken to, as they have anxiously sought information about their loved ones. It is not uncommon for Christians in Iran to be held incommunicado for a few days before being able to contact their families, but it is unusual for them to be held for so long without any word. The only recent examples of incommunicado detention of Iranian Christians extending as long as a month were Mary Mohammadi in January–February 2020 and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh in September–October 2021. Both were eventually released, but this will not ease the fears of Mansour...
  • Christian converts conclude prison sentences, but one now faces exile
    Habib Heydari (left) and Sasan Khosravi. Two Christian converts have been released from prison at the conclusion of their one-year prison sentences for belonging to a house-church, but one of them now faces two years’ exile. Sasan Khosravi, who is 36 years old, and Habib Heydari, who turned 40 just last week, were released from Bushehr Central Prison this morning. They had begun their sentences in February last year, but were sent on leave from prison in March, which was extended on numerous occasions until they were finally summoned back to prison in November to serve the remainder of their sentences behind bars. Now, while there is joy at the two Christians’ release, Sasan faces imminent internal exile, during which time he will not be permitted to seek employment within his specialist profession: the hospitality sector. It is not yet known where Sasan, who is a hotel manager, will be sent for his term of exile, but it is expected to be far away from his home in Bushehr. The two other Iranian Christians who have endured internal exile in recent years, Ebrahim Firouzi and Youhan Omidi, were both sent more than 1,000km from their homes. Sasan is expected to...
  • Christian convert back in prison just two weeks after release
    Just two weeks after the release on bail of nine Christian converts, pending a review of their case ordered by Iran’s Supreme Court, one of them is already back in prison - thanks to a ruling by a different branch of that same Supreme Court. Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad, known as Matthias, has been the subject of multiple arrests dating back to 2006, and his latest detention relates to a previous six-year prison sentence which was overturned on appeal back in December 2014. His alleged crime? “Propagating Christianity.” Now, more than seven years after his acquittal, on Saturday 15 January Matthias was summoned suddenly to the “Office for the Execution of Judgments” in his home city of Bandar Anzali, north Iran, and told he was to be transferred immediately back to Anzali Prison - from which he was released on 30 December - after a Supreme Court judge had overruled the seven-year-old appeal court ruling. And perhaps the most astounding element of Matthias’ sudden re-arrest and imprisonment is the similarity of the charge in both the old case, of which he was once acquitted, and the new, which was sent for a review just two months ago. In his ruling on 3...
  • Christian prisoner of conscience mourns death of only child
    Yasser's son, Amir Ali, during his younger years. An Iranian Christian prisoner of conscience is mourning the death of his only child. Mehdi (Yasser) Akbari, who was a single parent, was informed on 28 December that his 18-year-old son, Amir Ali, who had underlying health issues, had passed away in the care facility where he had been living since his father's imprisonment in June 2020.  The Christian prisoner of conscience was given five days’ leave from 1 January, but by that time his son’s funeral had already taken place. Yasser’s leave was later extended to 10 days, but he was forced to return to Tehran’s Evin Prison earlier today. Mehdi (Yasser) Akbari. The news comes as Iranians have been reacting angrily on social media to the death of another prisoner of conscience, writer Baktash Abtin, who contracted Covid-19 in Evin. Baktash’s “crime” was to exercise his right to freedom of speech, for which he was convicted of “actions against national security” and sentenced to six years in prison. Yasser’s “crime” was to exercise his right to freedom of religion by converting to Christianity and joining a house-church, for which he was also convicted of “acting against national security” and sentenced...
  • Convert begins four-year prison sentence for ‘spreading Christianity’
    Hadi (Moslem) Rahimi has begun serving his four-year prison sentence for “acting against national security” by attending a house-church and “spreading ‘Zionist’ Christianity”. The 32-year-old delivery driver, who has a nine-month-old daughter, handed himself in to Tehran’s Evin Prison on Sunday morning (9 January) so that the property deed submitted by a friend to secure his bail may be released. Moslem was one of four converts to receive sentences in August 2020 of between two and five years in prison. Moslem was given a four-year sentence, while Ramin Hassanpour was given five years and there were two-year sentences for Ramin’s wife Saeede, and another woman, Sakine (Mehri) Behjati. Their appeals were rejected in September 2020. The others remain free on bail, for now. Background  The four, all members of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran”, were first arrested in February 2020. In May 2020, they spent a week in Lakan Prison in Rasht, having been unable to afford the 500 million toman bail ($30,000) set for them after the charges against them were read out at Branch 10 of the Revolutionary Court in Rasht. They were eventually released on reduced bail of 200 million tomans ($11,500). Ramin and Kathrin have two...
  • Lawyer of imprisoned Christian asks what danger his client’s release would pose
    The lawyer of a Christian convert who has spent nearly four years in prison for “acting against national security” by being part of a house-church has asked what danger the release of his 60-year-old client could pose. Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh is one of the longest serving Christian prisoners of conscience, having begun his 10-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison on 20 January 2018. Since then, he has petitioned on numerous occasions for a retrial or conditional release, but on every occasion has been rejected, despite emotional pleas from his elderly mother to see her son again. His lawyer, Iman Soleimani, submitted yet another petition for a retrial earlier this week, and told Article18 that none of the charges for which his client was sentenced to 10 years in prison had been substantiated. Mr Soleimani added that he had based his new petition on the recent ruling of the Supreme Court, which found that nine Christian converts sentenced to five years in prison should not have been convicted of “actions against national security”.  Mr Soleimani also referenced the recent decision of a prosecutor in Dezful not to charge eight converts with “propaganda”, ruling that “they have merely converted to a different...
  • Christian woman imprisoned ‘for believing in Jesus’ faces fresh accusation
    A 64-year-old Christian woman who has already served one prison sentence for “propaganda against the regime” has been summoned to answer the same charge again.  Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari, who served four months of her one-year sentence before her release in March 2020 at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, has been told she must appear before the local prosecutor in Karaj by 19 January. While the basis for the fresh charge against the Christian convert are as yet unknown, a family friend of Mahrokh’s told Article18 she is especially concerned at the prospect of spending more time in prison because of the fragile health of her husband, Fathalli, who is 71 years old. Mahrokh is her husband’s primary carer and during her previous imprisonment was once found unconscious having not eaten for two days. The family friend added that Mahrokh is still recovering from the trauma of her imprisonment, numerous interrogations and other mistreatment at the hands of the Iranian intelligence agents who first brought charges against her - and only, as she put it, “for the crime of believing in Jesus Christ”. Following her imprisonment, Mahrokh was forced to attend “re-education” classes with an Islamic cleric for several weeks,...
  • Christian converts granted belated Christmas break from prison
    Left to right: Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi. Three Christian converts serving three-year sentences for “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam” have been given 10 days’ leave from prison after enquiring why they weren’t included in the publicised mass furlough of Christian prisoners over Christmas. Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi were released from Karaj’s Central Prison yesterday on bail of 150 million tomans each (around $5,500), having been encouraged to apply for leave by some fellow prisoners who had heard about the directive. In announcing a Christmas furlough for all “Christian” prisoners - meaning, in the parlance of the Islamic Republic, Iranians of Assyrian and Armenian descent - the head of the judiciary, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, had stipulated that prisoners serving sentences on “security”-related charges or of over five years would not be considered.   And given that all Persian-speaking Christians currently incarcerated in Iranian prisons, including Amin, Milad and Alireza, were convicted by Revolutionary Courts - meaning their charges were de facto “security”-related - and that most are serving sentences of over five years, it had seemed extremely unlikely that any would be included....
  • Nine converts conditionally released following Supreme Court ruling
    Clockwise from top-left: Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Mehdi Khatibi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Hossein Kadivar, Mohammad Vafadar, Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, Behnam Akhlaghi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Kamal Naamanian Nine converts serving five-year prison sentences for their involvement in house-churches have been conditionally released from prison, pending a review of their case. The nine men were informed on Wednesday 29 December that they would be released on or before the New Year. The first of the men, Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, was released from Anzali Prison the following day, 30 December, and the remaining eight were released from Tehran's Evin Prison earlier today. Their conditional release follows a Supreme Court ruling in November, in which the judges questioned the legality of their conviction and affirmed that “merely preaching Christianity, and promoting the ‘Evangelical Zionist sect’, both of which apparently means propagating Christianity through family gatherings [house-churches], is not a manifestation of gathering and collusion to disrupt the security of the country, whether internally or externally”. This decision followed the launch of a campaign, #Place2Worship, which was inspired by two of the nine men, Behnam Akhlaghi and Babak Hossainzadeh, who during a short furlough in October had recorded videos and wrote an open letter to the Iranian authorities asking, "Where can we, as Persian-speaking...
  • Christian converts cleared of any crime
    Left to right: Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, Esmaeil Narimanpour, and Alireza Varak-Shah, four of eight Christian converts cleared of any criminal offence. Eight Christian converts have been cleared of any crime, with the presiding prosecutor stating that their change of religion was not a punishable offence according to the laws of Iran. The ruling by the public prosecutor of the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Dezful comes just weeks after Iran’s Supreme Court ruled that nine other Christian converts serving five-year prison sentences should not have been convicted of “acting against national security”. The Dezful ruling, dated 30 November, states that the eight Christians - Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Alireza Roshanaei Zadeh, Masoud Nabi, and Mohsen Saadati Zadeh - “merely converted to a different religion” and “didn’t carry out any propaganda against other groups”. The prosecutor added that “apostasy” from Islam is something that can be punished under Islamic law (Sharia), "and in the hereafter", but has “not been criminalised in the laws of Iran”, and therefore the men could not be charged. Their lawyer, Iman Soleimani, tweeted a copy of the ruling, saying it offered a “glimmer of...
  • Christians’ belongings held unlawfully, says lawyer
    Left to right: Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh, Mina Khajavi, and Joseph Shahbazian. The lawyer of five Christians out on bail for more than a year has complained his clients’ confiscated belongings have still not been returned to them, despite the law mandating they should be returned at the “earliest possible opportunity”. The Christians - Joseph Shahbazian, who is an Iranian-Armenian, and Christian converts Mina Khajavi, Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh, Salar Eshraghi Moghadam, and Farhad Khazaee – were among dozens arrested in the summer of 2020 and are now facing charges including “attracting Muslims to house-churches” and “weakening faith in Muslim clerics”. But although they were freed on bail more than a year ago, their confiscated items have still not been returned to them, despite repeated requests, says lawyer Iman Soleimani. Mr Soleimani said he went to the court again on Saturday, 18 December, to once more request the return of the items, but was not even permitted to enter the building and told the judge was “too busy”. The lawyer added that the judge had previously sent two letters asking Ministry of Intelligence officials to return the belongings, but that these had had no effect. Mr Soleimani said some of the confiscated...
  • Iran’s Supreme Court rules converts did not act against national security
    Clockwise from top-left: Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Mehdi Khatibi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Hossein Kadivar, Mohammad Vafadar, Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, Behnam Akhlaghi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Kamal Naamanian. Iran's Supreme Court has ruled that nine converts serving five-year prison sentences for their involvement in house-churches should not have been charged with “acting against national security”, in what has the potential to become a landmark ruling. While the ruling is not enough on its own to set an official "precedent", nevertheless it has the potential to influence all current and future cases involving Persian-speaking Christians. The ruling, handed down on 3 November but only communicated to their lawyers yesterday, states explicitly that their involvement in house-churches and even the propagation of what is referred to as the “Evangelical Zionist sect” should not be deemed an action against national security.  This is significant, because in each of the cases involving the more than 20 Christians currently incarcerated in Iran for their involvement in house-churches, the charges amounted to “actions against national security”. But the Supreme Court's ruling states that: “Merely preaching Christianity, and promoting the ‘Evangelical Zionist sect’, both of which apparently means propagating Christianity through family gatherings [house-churches] is not a manifestation of gathering and collusion to disrupt the...
  • Christian converts told to return to prison
    Habib Heydari (left) and Sasan Khosravi. Christian converts Sasan Khosravi and Habib Heydari have been summoned back to prison to serve the remainder of their one-year sentences for “propagating against the Islamic Republic by promoting Christianity”. The two Christians have been on furlough since March, having only begun their sentences in February, but have now been told they must return to Bushehr Central Prison by Thursday, 11 November, to complete their sentences. They were among seven Christians to have been sentenced in June 2020 - all on the same charges. Of the seven, Sasan, Habib, and Sasan’s brother Sam were given one-year sentences; Pooriya Peyma received a 91-day sentence; and Sam, Sasan and Pooriya’s wives were fined. Sam and Sasan were also sentenced to two-year’s exile from their home city of Bushehr following their release, including a ban on any work within their specialist profession – the hospitality sector – while Sam’s wife, Maryam, was banned from working for any national institution, including the hospital she’d worked at for 20 years. Only Sam, Sasan and Habib appealed - unsuccessfully - against the sentences. The others chose to pay their fines or, in Pooriya’s case, to serve his sentence.  Pooriya began...
  • Christian converts summoned to begin prison sentences for ‘deviant propaganda’
    Left to right: Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi. Three Christian converts have been summoned to begin three-year prison sentences for “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam”. Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi will be the first Christians sent to prison under the newly amended Article 500 of the penal code, which ARTICLE 19, an organisation dedicated to the protection of freedom of speech, has called “a full-on attack on the right to freedom of religion and belief”. The three men, who have all spent time in prison before because of their Christian faith and activities, have until Wednesday, 10 November, to hand themselves in to the prison authorities in Karaj. Amin Khaki, pictured on 10 November with his wife Laleh and five-year-old son Ateen outside the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Fardis, before his transfer to Ghezel Hesar prison. They were initially given the maximum five-year sentences under the charges, but their sentences were reduced on appeal in August. The charges against them followed coordinated raids by intelligence agents on their homes, and on the homes of nine other Christian families in Fardis, in November 2020.  None...
  • Christian converts’ property returned after six-month wait
    Left to right: Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, Esmaeil Narimanpour, and Alireza Varak-Shah. Four Christian converts whose property was confiscated from them by the intelligence agents who raided their homes more than six months ago have finally had it returned to them. Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, and Mohammad Kayidgap were arrested in April, then charged in August with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” - as a result of their membership of a house-church. But though they appealed to have their confiscated property returned to them - including items essential for their children’s schoolwork, such as laptops and mobile phones - the intelligence service in their home city of Dezful had until now refused to hand it back, in spite of several direct orders from the local prosecutor’s office to do so. But in the past few days, their belongings have finally been returned to them, after their lawyer, Iman Soleimani, followed up the matter with the intelligence service in the capital, Tehran. The four Christians are now awaiting trial, alongside four others – Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Alireza Roshanaei Zadeh, Masoud Nabi, and Mohsen Saadati Zadeh – who are also expected soon to be summoned to...
  • Convert denied parole – he never applied for it
    An Iranian convert who has spent more than three years in Tehran’s Evin Prison for leading a house-church was told yesterday he has been denied parole for a second time - despite never applying for it. Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, who is 40 years old, has been in prison since July 2018, serving what was initially a 10-year sentence, later reduced to six years. But despite missing his family terribly - including not being present at any of his 15-year-old daughter Martha’s last four birthdays - Saheb has consistently refused to apply for conditional release, saying he cannot accept the condition of no further involvement with a house-church. It came as a surprise, therefore, when in July this year Saheb was told by the prison authorities to sign a form acknowledging that his request for conditional release had been rejected. “I never applied for it,” he responded. “You sign it!” Two months later, on 1 September, following the release of some disturbing video footage from inside Evin, Saheb and his fellow prisoners received a visit from Tehran’s chief prosecutor, who remarked on the high number of Christian prisoners of conscience (13), including several, like Saheb, who met the conditions for parole....
  • Intelligence agents refuse to return Christians’ belongings
    Left to right: Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, Esmaeil Narimanpour, and Alireza Varak-Shah. Four Iranian Christian converts are growing increasingly frustrated by intelligence agents’ continued refusal to return personal belongings confiscated from them six months ago. The four Christians, Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, and Mohammad Kayidgap, were arrested in April and charged in August with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”, as a result of their membership of a house-church. (Christian converts across Iran meet together to worship in private homes, known as house-churches, because they are not permitted to attend the churches of Iran’s “recognised” Christians of Armenian and Assyrian origin.) Yet while the local prosecutor’s office in their city of Dezful, southwestern Iran, has three times ordered the return of the Christians’ belongings, which include laptops and mobile phones, the intelligence ministry has each time refused to comply. The Christians cannot afford to buy replacements, which for some of them has meant that their children do not have the necessary equipment for their studies. Iranian human rights lawyer Hossein Ahmadiniaz, who has represented prisoners of conscience including Christian convert Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, told Article18 the situation highlights how intelligence agents act outside the bounds...
  • Christians summoned to Tehran prosecutor for final defence
    Left to right: Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh, Mina Khajavi, and Joseph Shahbazian. Five Iranian Christians who were among dozens arrested during coordinated raids on house-churches in three cities last year were summoned on Saturday to give their final defence before a Tehran prosecutor. The Christians were given five days to present themselves at the Evin prosecutor’s office, and at least three of them have already done so - Joseph Shahbazian, who is an Iranian-Armenian, Mina Khajavi, and Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh. According to their lawyer, Iman Soleimani, the charges read out to them at the prosecutor’s office included: "promoting 'Zionist' Christianity", "weakening faith in Muslim clerics", "membership in opposition groups" to "disrupt national security", "weakening the foundation of the family", and "attracting Muslims to house-churches". They denied all the charges.  Mina, who is 58 years old, told the prosecutor the interrogators had thrown away her actual testimony and said to her: “You must write what we want you to write!” Her lawyer said the accusations against all the Christians were based only on the allegations of these Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents, and not on any evidence. Mr Soleimani added that Mina, who is 58 years old, was asked by the prosecutor about...
  • Christian convert refused parole again despite assurances
    Christian prisoner of conscience Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh has for the second time this year been refused conditional release, or even a furlough. The Christian convert, who turned 60 in August, is eligible for parole, having served over one third of his 10-year sentence for membership of a house-church. But although he was led to believe his conditional release was imminent, following a visit by the chief prosecutor last month, Nasser has now been informed he will not be released - not even temporarily. Nasser’s lawyer only found out about the decision when he followed up the matter with the chief prosecutor’s office on Sunday. He learned that the rejection had been signed by the prosecutor himself on 21 September but not communicated to him. He was also told no promise of release had been made; only a promise to consider Nasser's parole, which had now resulted in another rejection. Nasser was told he can apply again in six months’ time. On his 60th birthday, Nasser’s elderly mother, for whom he was the primary carer before his incarceration, gave an impassioned plea for her son’s release, saying she was “very lonely” and that her son had “done nothing wrong; he only...
  • Convert released on bail after month’s incommunicado detention
    A convert detained incommunicado for almost a month following his arrest by agents of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has finally been released from custody, albeit only on bail. Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh, 28, was one of three converts arrested on the evening of Sunday 5 September in the northern city of Rasht - two at a house-church service, and the third at his home. But while the two others, Ahmad Sarparast, 25, and Morteza Mashoodkari, 38, were transferred to Lakan Prison on 18 September, then released on bail three days later, there remained great uncertainty about Ayoob’s situation and well-being. His two friends had not seen him since the day after their arrest, while his family had heard nothing from him since a short telephone call on 8 September. Finally, yesterday, at around 5pm, Ayoob was released on bail of 400 million tomans (around $15,000). There remain a lot of unanswered questions regarding his detention. For now, all that is known is that he was initially held at an IRGC detention centre - with some, if not all, of his time spent in solitary confinement - and then at some point later transferred to Lakan Prison, from where he was released yesterday...
  • Convert arrested three weeks ago still detained, incommunicado
    There are concerns over the wellbeing of a convert, whose whereabouts remain unknown more than three weeks after his arrest during a raid on a house-church service in Rasht, northern Iran. Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh, 28, was one of three converts arrested on the evening of Sunday 5 September, alongside Ahmad Sarparast, 25, who was also at the meeting, and Morteza Mashoodkari, 38, who was arrested at his home. All three were initially taken to a detention centre belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and placed in solitary confinement. But while Ahmad and Morteza were transferred to Lakan Prison on 18 September, then four days later released on bail, Ayoob's family have not heard from him since one short telephone call from the IRGC detention centre on 8 September. When they voiced their concerns to the local prosecutor’s office, Ayoob’s family were told he would also be transferred to Lakan Prison, but they have not heard from him in the 20 days since, while Ahmad and Morteza say they haven’t seen their friend since the day of their arrest. The families of the three men have also been threatened by IRGC intelligence agents for publicising information about the arrests of their...
  • New arrests and threats as pressure increases on Rasht converts
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three converts were arrested last night in the northern city of Rasht, in the latest blow to the beleaguered Church there. Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh were arrested at around 10pm - two at a house-church meeting, and another at his home - and are now being held in an unknown location. The small community of converts in Rasht has been affected perhaps more than any other in Iran in recent years, with 11 currently serving long prison sentences, another living in internal exile, and a further four facing a combined 13 years in prison. Meanwhile, in the past few weeks nine of the Rasht converts held in Tehran’s Evin Prison have been threatened with enforced transfers to a different prison, and told they’ll have to pay for their own transportation there. One of them, Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, has already been transferred after a short furlough, and is now in Anzali. And although the prison in Anzali is much closer to home and would therefore have been a preferable place of detention in the first place, two of the nine converts, Behnam Akhlaghi and Babak Hosseinzadeh, say they...
  • Christian convert given leave from prison
    Christian convert Hamed Ashouri has been released on leave from prison. Article18 understands that the 31-year-old, who is serving a 10-month sentence for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”, may be permitted to spend the rest of his sentence at home, with an electronic tag. At least two other Christian converts have been released with electronic tags so far this year, in what appears to be an increasing trend. Hamed has so far spent just less than one month in Karaj’s Central Prison, having begun his sentence on 27 July. He was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents as he left his home in Fardis on the morning of 23 February 2019. The intelligence agents proceeded to raid his home and confiscate all Christian items, including Bibles and other literature, as well as computer hard drives.  He was then taken to Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj, where he was held in solitary confinement for 10 days, before being transferred to Ghezel Hesar Prison, also in Karaj, for another two days. During interrogations, Hamed was offered a large monthly salary if he “cooperated” by becoming an informant against other Christians. When he refused, he was beaten.  Hamed was finally released on bail...
  • Christian converts’ sentences reduced but appeals rejected
    Left to right: Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi. Three Christian converts were informed today that their appeals against five-year prison sentences have been rejected, but their sentences reduced to three years. Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi were given the maximum five-year prison sentences in June for “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam”. They were also each fined 40 million tomans ($1,800), though that has now been removed on appeal. They were the first Christians convicted under controversial new amendments to Article 500 of the penal code, which came into force earlier this year. The charges against the three men followed coordinated raids by intelligence agents on their homes, and on the homes of nine other Christian families in Fardis, in November 2020.  None of the Christians were arrested at that time, but many of their personal belongings were confiscated – including phones, laptops, Bibles, Christian literature and anything else to do with Christianity.  The Christian items have not been returned. Then in the space of two weeks in January and February 2021, a member of each family was summoned for interrogation and ordered to sign commitments...

Latest news and updates

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28th February 2024My name is Esmaeil Maghrebinezhad and I was born in 1954 in Tehran. My whole life was affected by persecution and harassment due to my faith. [...]Read more...
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