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

  • 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, 48, 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 today 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, 48, who could not attend the court hearing on 29 May because she was visiting her son, who has leukaemia, in hospital....
  • 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 Iranian Christian woman began prison sentence on Easter Saturday
    A second Iranian woman convert to Christianity 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 Christian converts first arrested in February 2020 for their membership of a house-church in Rasht. The four Christians - 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 Christians 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...
  • 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...
  • Christian converts given five-year sentences for ‘deviant propaganda’ 
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three Christian 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 Christians, 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 Christians 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 Christian 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...
  • 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: Christians’ 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 Christian 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 Christians today, comes after a Supreme Court judge ordered a review of their convictions in November. The Christians 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 Christian 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 Christians 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”,...
  • 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 Christian 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 Christians to face charges under Article 500 of the penal code since it was amended last year....
  • Christian converts absolved by Supreme Court now face ‘propaganda’ charges
    Behnam Akhlaghi (left) and Babak Hosseinzadeh. Two of the nine Christian 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 other Christians 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....
  • Converts summoned to begin prison sentences for ‘spreading “Zionist” Christianity’
    Three Christian 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 Christians, 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...
  • Converts charged with ‘deviant propaganda’ under amended Article 500
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three Christian 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 Christians, including three converts 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...
  • 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 Christian 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 26 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...
  • 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’
    Christian convert 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 Christian 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 other Christians remain free on bail, for now. Background  The four Christians, 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)....
  • 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 Christian 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 Christian 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...
  • 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 the belief 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...
  • Iran’s Supreme Court rules Christians 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 Christian 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 the Christians’ 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...
  • 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...
  • Christian convert denied parole – he never applied for it
    An Iranian Christian 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...
  • 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: “weakening the foundation of the family”, “attracting Muslims to house-churches”, “being members of hostile groups to the Islamic Republic in order to damage national security”, “weakening the belief in Muslim clerics”, “propagating Christian Zionism”, and “establishing and organising corrupt meetings”.  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...
  • 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...
  • Christian convert released on bail after month’s incommunicado detention
    A Christian 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 Christians 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...
  • Christian convert arrested three weeks ago still detained, incommunicado
    There are concerns over the wellbeing of a Christian 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 Christian 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 Christians have also been threatened by IRGC intelligence agents for publicising information about the arrests...
  • New arrests and threats as pressure increases on Rasht Christians
    Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three Christian converts were arrested last night in the northern city of Rasht, in the latest blow to the beleaguered Christian community 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 Christian converts in Rasht has been affected perhaps more than any other in Iran in recent years, with 11 local Christians 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 Christians 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 Christians, Behnam Akhlaghi...
  • 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...
  • Intelligence agents ‘refusing to return Christians’ property’
    Left to right: Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, Esmaeil Narimanpour, and Alireza Varak-Shah. Intelligence agents in the southwestern city of Dezful are reportedly refusing to hand back the personal belongings of four Christian converts recently charged with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”, despite being ordered to do so by the court. The lawyer for the four men, Iman Soleimani, told Mohabat News that the Christians cannot afford to purchase replacement items, and that several of the items, such as phones and computers, are “urgently needed” for their children ahead of the new academic year. The four Christians - Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, and Mohammad Kayidgap - were charged on 3 August at the 4th branch of the prosecutor’s office of the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Dezful. Meanwhile, four other Christians who are part of the same case – Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Alireza Roshanaei Zadeh, Masoud Nabi, and Mohsen Saadati Zadeh – have not yet been officially charged, but are also expected soon to be summoned to face the same charges. No date has yet been set for the next hearing, but the four charged Christians were each forced to appoint a guarantor to pay...
  • Christian convert fitted with electronic tag
    Christian convert Reza Zaeemi was yesterday released from prison, on the condition he wears an electronic tag for the remainder of his nine-month sentence. He is also banned from leaving the country for two years following the completion of his sentence. Reza has spent 80 days in detention overall, including just over two months in Karaj’s Central Prison since starting his sentence there on 2 June. He is one of an increasing number of Christian converts to have been convicted of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” in recent months. In Reza’s case, the charge sheet listed that his “propaganda” was specifically the “promotion of evangelical Christianity”. Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, said: “Article18 welcomes the news of Reza Zaeemi's release, although he is not ‘free’ in the full meaning of the word.  “We believe that no-one should have to endure even one day of imprisonment for exercising their right to religious freedom, and every day that Reza and many others like him currently serving prison terms for their Christian beliefs and activities are held is a contravention of Iran’s commitment to international law.” Reza is not the first Christian convert to have been forced to wear an ankle bracelet this...
  • Four more Christian converts charged with ‘propaganda against the Islamic Republic’
    Left to right: Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, Esmaeil Narimanpour, and Alireza Varak-Shah. Four Christian converts from the south-western city of Dezful are the latest Iranian Christians to be officially charged with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”. The charge was read out to Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, and Mohammad Kayidgap at the 4th branch of the prosecutor’s office of the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Dezful yesterday. Meanwhile, the lawyer for the four men, Iman Soleimani, told Article18 that while the other four Christians who are part of the same case - Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Alireza Roshanaei Zadeh, Masoud Nabi, and Mohsen Saadati Zadeh - have not yet been officially charged, he has "no doubt" that they too will be summoned to the next Revolutionary Court hearing. No date has yet been set for that hearing, but the four charged Christians were each forced to appoint a guarantor to pay their 30 million toman ($1,300) bail should they fail to attend. Four of the eight men - Esmaeil, Davoud, Hojjat, and Alireza Varak-Shah - were arrested in April and released two days later, after signing statements pledging to appear when summoned. The other four named...
  • Christian convert begins prison sentence for ‘propaganda against Islamic Republic’
    Christian convert Hamed Ashouri has begun his 10-month prison sentence for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”. The 31-year-old submitted himself to Karaj’s Central Prison yesterday. Before doing so, he recorded a short video, in which he explained that he had been arrested for his Christian activities.  He added: “I thank God for considering me worthy of enduring this persecution because of Him.” Hamed was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents two and a half years ago 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 after submitting guarantees in the form of payslips. Hamed and another family member were then forced to attend “re-education” sessions with...
  • Christians summoned to answer charges of ‘propaganda against the Islamic Republic’
    Left to right: Alireza Varak-Shah, Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, and Esmaeil Narimanpour. (MEC) Eight Christian converts in the southwestern city of Dezful have been summoned to answer charges of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”. The eight Christians - Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Alireza Roshanaei Zadeh, Masoud Nabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, and Mohsen Saadati Zadeh - were summoned on Tuesday, 20 July, to appear at the 4th branch of the prosecutor’s office of the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Dezful within five days. Four of the men - Hojjat, Esmaeil, Davoud, and Alireza Varak-Shah - were arrested in April and released two days later, after signing statements pledging to appear when summoned. Several other Christians were also interrogated at that time and ordered to sign commitments to refrain from further Christian activities, while some of the Christians, including Esmaeil, were beaten. Davoud has previously been arrested for his Christian activities - back in October 2017, when he was detained for a month. The charges against the eight men fall under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, one of two articles controversially amended earlier this year.  ARTICLE 19, an organisation...
  • Bishop’s house ‘to be turned into a museum’
    A photo of the front of the house during the bishop's time there, courtesy of the Dehqani-Tafti family. The former house of Iran’s first ethnic Persian Anglican bishop is to be turned into a museum, according to the state-funded Mehr News Agency.  As Article18 reported last year, the house was confiscated by order of an Islamic Revolutionary Court judge in November 1979 and stood empty for decades until it was taken over by a state organisation in the past couple of years, and restored. Mehr says the museum will be “for public use and culture lovers” and will display “the art and history of the country”. It adds that the renovations cost the Mostazafan Foundation, an organisation directly ruled by Iran’s Supreme Leader, 4 billion tomans (around $175,000). The Mostazafan Foundation purportedly exists to support the poor - “mostazafan” literally translates as “oppressed” - but it is one of the richest organisations in the country, and its dealings are far from transparent. Bishop Guli (the youngest) with her siblings in the garden of what was their family home. Reacting to the news, the former bishop’s daughter, Guli Francis-Dehqani, who is now herself a bishop in the Church of England, told...
  • Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh’s request for conditional release rejected
    Christian prisoner of conscience Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh has been told his request for conditional release has been rejected. The news comes as a bitter blow to the Christian convert, who turns 60 in August, having been regularly assured by prison authorities in recent months that his request would be accepted. Nasser is eligible for parole, having served over one third of his 10-year sentence for “actions against national security” - because of his membership of a Tehran house-church. Since beginning his sentence in Evin Prison in January 2018, Nasser has had three requests for a retrial rejected and has written several open letters querying why his membership of a house-church was deemed 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. After frequent assurances from prison authorities in recent months, Nasser received a handwritten letter last week from the Tehran prosecutor’s office, informing him that his request had been rejected. There was no explanation for the decision. He has not yet been able to bring himself to tell his elderly mother, with whom...
  • Christian converts given maximum five-year sentences under penal code amendments
    Left to right: Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi. Three Christian converts have been given the maximum sentence of five years each in prison under controversial recent amendments to Iran's penal code. Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi, who were also each fined 40 million tomans ($1,800), have been convicted of “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam” - words lifted directly from the newly amended Article 500. They were informed of the verdicts, which they intend to appeal, on Saturday, 26 June, at the 4th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Karaj. They had been summoned two days earlier, following a short hearing at the same court on Monday 21 June, during which the Christians were forced to defend themselves after the judge, Mehdi Zeinali, claimed their lawyer had not completed the necessary documentation.  Having asked whether they may bring their lawyer with them on Saturday, the Christians were told they were not entitled to a lawyer - a clear breach both of their rights and Iran’s constitution. Article 35 of the constitution states that “in all courts” (italics added), defendants are “entitled to select a lawyer for...
  • Christian convert’s appeal rejected, summoned to serve sentence
    Iranian Christian convert Hamed Ashoori has been summoned to begin his 10-month prison sentence for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”, after his appeal was rejected. The 31-year-old, who lives in Fardis, west of Tehran, received a message on Saturday, 26 June - the same day his appeal was rejected - telling him he had 10 days to submit himself to the prison authorities in Karaj to begin his sentence. Hamed was sentenced in April 2021, following a final court hearing a month earlier at the 4th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Karaj. The case against Hamed, which was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, actually dates back to February 2019, though it was not reported until his sentencing earlier this year. Hamed was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents as he left his home 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...
  • Elderly Italian nun told she must leave Iran
    Isfahan's last two nuns, Fabiola Weiss and Giuseppina Berti, have been told they must leave their convent, while Sister Berti must leave Iran. An elderly Italian nun who has dedicated her life to helping Iran’s poor and needy has been told her visa will not be renewed. Sister Giuseppina Berti, who is 75 years old, worked for 26 years at a leprosy hospital in the north-western city of Tabriz, before moving to a convent in Isfahan. But according to the Vatican News Agency, she has been told she must leave Iran in the coming days.  The news agency says the nun’s departure will be a particularly heavy blow for the only other remaining nun at the Isfahan convent, Fabiola Weiss, a 77-year-old from Austria who worked for nearly 40 years in the leprosy hospital before moving to Isfahan. Sister Weiss’s residency permit has been renewed for another year, but she has also been told she must leave the convent, meaning the presence of the Roman Catholic Church in the city will be “permanently lost”, warns the report. Since the Isfahan convent was built in 1937, the nuns have “dedicated themselves to the education and training of young people”, according to...
  • Convert begins prison sentence for ‘promoting Christianity’
    An Iranian Christian convert has begun serving his nine-month prison sentence for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic by promoting evangelical Christianity”. Reza Zaeemi, 40, handed himself in to the authorities at the Karaj Central Prison on Wednesday, 2 June, after receiving a summons last month. He initially went to the prison a week earlier, but was told to come back another time, as no judge was available to receive him. Reza was arrested on the street outside his home on 27 November 2020. He was blindfolded and handcuffed, then taken to an unknown location, where he was interrogated for four hours, before being transferred to a detention centre belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. After two days, he was taken to the prosecutor’s office, where the charge of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” was read out to him. Reza was then taken back to the Revolutionary Guard detention centre for a further eight days, before being transferred to Ghezel Hesar Prison. A week later, he was released on bail of 60 million tomans (around $2,750). He was not allowed to call his family for the first eight days of his 17 days in detention. On 25 January 2021, Reza was...
  • Prison deadline looms for Parkinson’s sufferer and wife
    An Iranian Christian convert with advanced Parkinson’s disease and his wife have been told they must submit themselves to Tehran’s Evin Prison by 15 June. Homayoun Zhaveh, 62, and Sara Ahmadi, 43, face two and eight years in prison, respectively, for belonging to a house-church. Christianity is a recognised minority religion in Iran, but converts like Homayoun and Sara aren’t recognised as Christians and are prohibited from attending the services of Iran’s recognised ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Christians. As a result, Iran’s converts, of whom there are believed to be at least several hundred thousand, have to choose between practising their faith alone at home, or taking the risk to join a house-church, which the Iranian regime refers to as “enemy groups” with “anti-security purposes”. (In reality, house-churches look very similar to the “house groups” Christians around the world belong to, simply providing a place for Christians to meet together to worship and pray.) It is within this context that Homayoun and Sara were sentenced to prison for their house-church membership in November 2020. They were also banned from foreign travel or membership of any social or political group for two years after their release, and given six months’ community...
  • Christian converts charged under Iran’s newly amended ‘propaganda’ law
    Left to right: Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi. Three Christian converts in Fardis, near Tehran, have become the first known examples of Christians being charged under the contentious recent amendments to the Iranian penal code. Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi, who have already spent time in prison for their Christian activities, have been charged in the past two weeks with “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam” - wording lifted directly from the newly amended Article 500 of the penal code. They were each forced to submit bail of 250 million tomans (around $12,000) and told they must report weekly to the intelligence branch of Iran’s police force for the next six months. The fresh charges against Amin, Milad and Alireza follow 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...
  • Convert faces prison for ‘promoting evangelical Christianity’
    An Iranian Christian convert is awaiting a summons to begin a nine-month prison sentence for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic by promoting evangelical Christianity”. Reza Zaeemi, who lives in Karaj, was initially sentenced to 18 months in prison following his arrest in November 2020, but on Sunday, 25 April, an appeals court reduced his custodial sentence by half. The 40-year-old also faces a two-year travel ban following his release. The news of Reza’s case, which has not been made public until now, follows the sentencing earlier this month of another Christian convert, Hamed Ashoori, to 10 months in prison - also because of alleged “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”. Both were tried at the 4th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Karaj. The case against Reza began with his arrest by plainclothes agents on 27 November 2020, on the street outside his home. Reza was blindfolded and handcuffed, then taken to an unknown location, where he was interrogated for four hours, before being transferred to a detention centre belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. After two days, Reza was taken to the prosecutor’s office, where the charge of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” was read out to him. He was...
  • Christian converts released on condition they stop meeting together
    Left to right: Alireza Varak-Shah, Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, and Esmaeil Narimanpour. (MEC) Four Christian converts arrested by agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence in the southwestern city of Dezful last week have been released without charge but only after they were ordered to sign commitments to have no further involvement in any Christian activities. Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, and Mohammad Ali Torabi, also known as Davoud, were released on the evening of 21 April after two days in detention. They were told to expect another summons for interrogation at any time. According to Mohabat News, 10 to 15 other Christian converts have been interrogated over the past week in Dezful and ordered to sign such commitments to refrain from further Christian activities. During the interrogations, the Christians were asked about their political views, and told they must vote in the upcoming presidential elections. (Iran is often accused of having a democracy only in name, and higher voter turnout can help paint the picture of a truly democratic society.) Mohabat News reports that some of the Christians, including Esmaeil, were beaten, and that all of them were told to be ready to appear for...
  • Christian convert given 10-month sentence for ‘propaganda against Islamic Republic’
    An Iranian Christian convert has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”. Hamed Ashoori, who is 31 years old and lives in Fardis, west of Tehran, was verbally informed of the verdict on 12 April following his final court hearing on 7 March at the 4th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Karaj.  Hamed has received no written confirmation of the verdict, which he intends to appeal, nor has he at any stage been given any information about the names of any of his arresting officers, interrogators or judges. The case against Hamed, which was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, actually dates back to February 2019, though it has not been reported until now. Hamed was arrested by Ministry of Intelligence agents as he left his home 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,...
  • Christian converts take appeals to Iran’s Supreme Court
    Iran’s Supreme Court is considering the retrial petitions for two high-profile cases involving Christian converts. The first relates to the prison sentences given to a 62-year-old man with advanced Parkinson’s disease, Homayoun Zhaveh, and his wife Sara Ahmadi, 43, for belonging to a house-church.  The second concerns a court’s decision to remove a two-year-old girl from her adoptive parents, Sam Khosravi and Maryam Falahi, because they are Christian converts and the girl, Lydia, is considered Muslim. Both cases have drawn international attention and opprobrium, and both are time-sensitive. Just last month, Homayoun and Sara were summoned to Tehran’s Evin Prison to begin their sentences, while Lydia could be take from Sam and Maryam’s care any day. Hossein Ahmadiniaz, an Iranian rights lawyer now based in Europe, told Article18: “Considering that these cases are considered ‘security’ cases, and therefore the Ministry of Intelligence oversees them, of course this illegal practice undermines the principle of judicial independence and undermines a fair and just trial. “However, if the judges act with honour, there is still the possibility they may accept the retrials and overturn the verdicts.” Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, gave this reaction:  “Just to know that the highest court in the...
  • Four Christian converts arrested in Dezful, others interrogated
    Left to right: Alireza Varak-Shah, Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, and Esmaeil Narimanpour. (MEC) Four Christian converts have been arrested and others summoned for interrogation by intelligence agents in the southwestern city of Dezful. Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, and Mohammad Ali Torabi, also known as Davoud, were arrested on Monday, 19 April. The following day - yesterday - a number of other converts were summoned for interrogation, though precisely how many is not yet known. Esmaeil and Hojjat were arrested during morning raids on their homes, while Davoud was detained after intelligence agents came to his shop, then took him with them to search his home. The details of Alireza’s arrest are as yet unknown.  According to Mohabat News, only Davoud, who has been arrested before for his Christian activities, was permitted to call home to let his family know he was safe. Davoud was detained for over a month following his last arrest, in October 2017, before being released on bail of 200 million tomans (around $60,000).  It was also reported at that time that Davoud and another Christian convert arrested in the same month, Abdul Ali Pourmand, had been forced to sign two...
  • Christian convert released after over three years in prison
    (Photo: Mohabat News) Christian convert Majidreza Souzanchi has been released after more than three years in prison. The 37-year-old was released on furlough from the Greater Tehran Penitentiary last Thursday, 8 April, and has told Mohabat News he does not need to return to serve the remaining few months of his sentence. Majidreza had already spent two years in Evin Prison for “propaganda against the state through membership of evangelical groups, and conducting evangelism”, before his transfer in December 2019 to the notorious Greater Tehran Penitentiary to serve a separate two-year sentence for “theft” - a charge he has consistently denied. He was also sentenced to 74 lashes for the alleged theft. According to Mohabat News, in August 2020 Majidreza was ordered at the Greater Tehran Penitentiary to shave his head, and when he refused was moved to a ward where the number of prisoners was twice its capacity and prisoners were forced to sleep in the corridors. Conditions at the Greater Tehran Penitentiary, also known as Fashafouyeh Prison, have been criticised by rights groups and even some government officials in recent years, including claims of a lack of separation of dangerous criminals from political prisoners, as well as unsanitary...
  • Parkinson’s sufferer and wife summoned to begin prison sentences
    A Christian convert with advanced Parkinson’s disease and his wife have been summoned to begin their prison sentences for belonging to a house-church. Homayoun Zhaveh, who is 62 years old, and his wife Sara Ahmadi, 42, received the summons on Friday, telling them to report to Tehran’s Evin Prison within days. Their lawyer has applied for a retrial. Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, said last week that the court’s decision to hand down a prison sentence to a man of Homayoun’s age and condition - only for his membership of a house-church - “would be shocking were it not for Iran’s proven track record of systematically persecuting Persian-speaking Christians, regardless of their age, health, or any other reasonable considerations”. Homayoun faces two years in prison, while his wife was given a stiffer sentence of eight years for her alleged leadership role within the house-church. The sentences were handed down in November 2020 but only reported last week after the couple were informed by their lawyer that they could be summoned any day. Sara was initially sentenced to 11 years in prison, but her sentence was reduced to eight years on appeal. However, all other elements of the couple’s sentences remain,...
  • Iranian Christian convert with Parkinson’s disease faces prison
    An Iranian Christian convert with advanced Parkinson’s disease and his wife have been told to expect a summons any day to begin their prison sentences for belonging to a house-church. Homayoun Zhaveh, who is 62, and his wife Sara Ahmadi, 42, were sentenced in November 2020 to two and 11 years in prison, respectively, for membership and leadership of the church, though their case has not been made public until now. They were also banned from foreign travel or membership of any social or political group for two years after their release, and given six months’ community service at a centre for the mentally disabled. Their appeals were rejected in December - though Sara’s sentence was reduced to eight years - and on Sunday, 14 March, they were informed that their case has been forwarded on to the government body responsible for enforcing judgments, which may therefore summon them at any moment. Homayoun and Sara were arrested by agents from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence in June 2019 as they holidayed with several other Christian families in the city of Amol, near the Caspian Sea. The other Christians were also questioned, but only Homayoun and Sara were detained - first in...
  • Ebrahim Firouzi released on bail, but charges not dropped
    Iranian Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi has been released on bail after nearly three weeks in detention. The 34-year-old, who has already spent years in prison and is now living in exile, was detained on 8 February on new charges of “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy) and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic in favour of hostile groups”. Five days later he began an indefinite hunger strike to protest against the new charges, which he only ended after receiving assurances his case would be dealt with and also that he would be released. But despite these assurances, Ebrahim remained in prison until Saturday, 27 February, when bail of 50 million tomans (around $16,500) was posted for him. Since Ebrahim’s latest arrest, messages of support have flooded in from around the world, and the Council of United Iranian Churches (Hamgaam) has led calls for his release and for the authorities to “stop persecuting him”. “The Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic has not stopped harassing and persecuting Mr Firouzi, even in exile,” said Hamgaam in its statement on 22 February. “And by making new charges and confiscating his property, it has made life more inhumane and difficult for him in his exile in...
  • Yasser Mossayebzadeh granted conditional release from prison
    Left to right: Saheb Fadaie, Yousef Nadarkhani, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, and Youhan Omidi. Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh, who was serving a 10-year sentence as a result of his membership of a house-church, has been granted conditional release from prison. It is understood that his release is dependent on him having no further interaction with other Christians, nor engaging in any Christian activities. Article18 understands that Yasser’s 10-year sentence - on charges of “forming a house church” and “promoting Zionist Christianity” - was reduced to three years during a court hearing last month, and that he was subsequently released from prison on Monday, 22 February. Having begun his sentence in July 2018, Yasser’s release comes a few months ahead of schedule, and it is understood he was pressured to recant his faith in order to secure an early release. However, little else is known about his situation, as during his imprisonment Yasser distanced himself from the three fellow converts alongside whom he had been sentenced and incarcerated: Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi, and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie. All four men belonged to the same house-church in Rasht, northern Iran, and all were given 10-year sentences, though last year the sentences of the...
  • Ebrahim Firouzi still in prison as church council voices concern
    A photograph of Ebrahim Firouzi, above the logo of the Hamgaam council of churches. The Council of United Iranian Churches (Hamgaam) has called on the Iranian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi, and “stop persecuting him”. The 34-year-old remains in prison in Zahedan, far southeastern Iran, despite receiving assurances last week that he would be released by Saturday 20 February. Indeed, as Article18 reported, it was only on this proviso that Ebrahim ended his indefinite hunger strike. Hamgaam’s statement, published earlier today, calls for Ebrahim’s “immediate and unconditional release”, and for Christians and rights organisations around the world to continue to advocate for him until he is freed. “The Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic has not stopped harassing and persecuting Mr. Firouzi, even in exile,” the statement says, “and by making new charges and confiscating his property, it has made life more inhumane and difficult for him in his exile in Rask.” Ebrahim has been living in enforced exile 1,000 miles from his home, as a form of continued punishment following his release from more than six years in prison in November 2019 – all for his peaceful Christian activities. And in exile he...
  • Ebrahim Firouzi promised release, ends hunger strike
    Imprisoned Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi has ended his hunger strike after receiving assurances he will soon be released and the case against him dismissed. The 34-year-old has been in prison for the past week on charges of “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy) and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic in favour of hostile groups”.  He began an indefinite hunger strike on Saturday, 13 February, vowing not to eat again until the charges were dropped.  Article18 now understands that Ebrahim has broken his fast following a visit by two intelligence agents, who assured him his case would be “dealt with”. Our sources report that Ebrahim has been transferred to another prison, in Zahedan - some 400 miles north of Chabahar, where he was originally incarcerated - and is due to be released by the end of the week.  Messages of support have poured in since Article18 published news of Ebrahim’s incarceration and hunger strike last week. Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, thanked those who have spoken out in Ebrahim’s defence, saying:  “We welcome the news of Ebrahim’s impending release and are extremely encouraged to see that his call for justice was heard and echoed by so many people from different faiths across the...
  • Ebrahim Firouzi to begin hunger strike after latest imprisonment
    Exiled and now newly imprisoned Iranian Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi has declared that he will begin a hunger strike tomorrow and won’t eat anything again until the latest charges against him are dropped. The 34-year-old, who has already spent nearly seven years in prison and 15 months in exile because of his Christian activities, was taken to Chabahar Prison, in southeastern Iran, on Monday, 8 February, after being summoned to answer new charges of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic in favour of hostile groups”. The new allegations came after six videos of Ebrahim were shared on the Facebook page of a Switzerland-based activist, in which Ebrahim complained about the continued rights violations against him. Ebrahim received the summons on Sunday 7 February, the day after the last of these six videos was released. He was told he must report to the prosecutors office in Sarbaz - about an hour and a half’s drive from his city of exile, Rask - within five days. Ebrahim decided to answer the summons the very next day, Monday 8 February, after which he was sent directly to Chabahar Prison, 250km south of Sarbaz. He was offered temporary release on bail of 50 million tomans...
  • Exiled Iranian Christian convert summoned to explain ‘propaganda’
    A screenshot of one of the six videos of Ebrahim Firouzi released over the past week on the Facebook page of Switzerland-based activist Milad Baharian. An Iranian Christian convert who has spent years in prison and is now in internal exile has been summoned to respond to fresh allegations of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic in favour of hostile groups”. Ebrahim Firouzi, who has spent the last 15 months in exile 1,000 miles from home in the remote southeastern city of Rask, was told yesterday he must report to the prosecutor’s office in Sarbaz, the regional capital, within five days.  The summons came just one day after the release of the last of six videos in which Ebrahim protested against the continued rights violations against him. In the videos, published by a Switzerland-based activist, Ebrahim complains about the harassment of his brother - who, he notes, is not even a Christian - as well as the continued confiscation of his property and the discovery that one of his “friends” was actually an informant of the Ministry of Intelligence. The 34-year-old also describes the events leading up to his last summons, in September 2020, which came after he received an unexpected...
  • Iranian Christians ordered not to meet – in person or online
    Photo: Mission Network News Eleven Christian couples from a city just outside Tehran have been ordered by agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence to sign commitments to refrain from meeting together - either in person or online. After refusing, the Christians were threatened with long prison sentences and told it would be better for them if they left the country. The demands were made during interrogations in Fardis over the past two weeks, which followed coordinated raids on the homes of 12 Christian families in the city in November. 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 – and they had been expecting to be summoned ever since. Iranian Christians are routinely asked during interrogations to sign commitments to refrain from gathering together in house-churches, but this is the first known example of intelligence officials demanding they sign a commitment to have no further social engagements together at all, including online. It is not illegal for Christians to meet together in Iran - whether in person or online - but all religious gatherings technically require permits, though...
  • Converts face prison for ‘promoting Christianity’
    Habib Heydari (left), and brothers Sam (centre) and Sasan Khosravi. An appeals court in the southwestern Iranian city of Bushehr has upheld the one-year prison sentences given to three Christian converts for “propagating against the Islamic Republic through promoting Christianity”. Habib Heydari and brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi were sentenced last June alongside a fourth convert, Pooriya Peyma, who was given a 91-day sentence, and Sam, Sasan and Pooriya’s wives, who received fines. However, only Habib, Sam and Sasan appealed. The short appeals-court verdict, dated 27 January and pronounced by Judge Hedayat Rahavi, stated that, “based on the evidence against the appellants in the initial court, they are guilty of organisation of house-churches and promotion of Christianity, which are clear examples of propaganda against the state”. Sam and Sasan also face a two-year exile from Bushehr following their release from prison, including a ban on any work within their specialist profession – the hospitality sector – while Sam’s wife, Maryam, has been banned from working for any national institution, including the hospital she’d worked at for 20 years. Sam and Maryam are meanwhile still fighting for custody of their adopted daughter, after a court ruled in July last year that,...
  • Iranian Christian group ‘dismantled’ for ‘creating moral deviations’
    There are currently at least 15 Christians in prison in Iran for alleged 'actions against national security'. An Iranian news agency linked to the Revolutionary Guard Corps has reported the arrest of a “network” of Christians in “several provinces” for “creating moral deviations” and “promoting [religious] conversion”. According to the report, published by Fars News Agency on Saturday, the “Zionist” group was “dismantled” in a coordinated operation, though there is no indication of the number of Christians arrested, nor when or where the arrests took place. The report accuses “Christian-affiliated networks” of “extensive” efforts against Iran’s national security over the past two years. There are currently at least 15 Christians in prison in Iran for alleged “actions against national security” - because of their membership or leadership of house-churches. Six senior UN experts recently wrote to the Iranian government to express “serious concern” over the reported “systematic persecution” of Christians in Iran. But Iran denied the claims, stating that “nobody is prosecuted on religious grounds” and that action is taken only against members of “enemy groups” and “private churches” (house-churches) belonging to a “Zionist Christian cult” with “anti-security purposes. These latest reported arrests are just another example of how Iran...
  • Mary Mohammadi told she can’t have old job back, arrested again
    Iranian Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi has been arrested again - this time for alleged “improper” hijab - and continues to be denied employment a year after her latest release from prison. The 22-year-old was arrested by Iran’s “morality police” on Monday, 18 January, and told her trousers were too tight, her headscarf was not correctly adjusted, and she should not be wearing an unbuttoned coat. Mary has already spent six months in prison as a result of her membership of a house-church - recently labelled by the Iranian regime as “enemy groups” belonging to a “Zionist” cult - and was last year given another suspended prison sentence for participating in a peaceful protest. Mary says she has been unable to return to her work as a gymnastics instructor since her release from prison in February last year, despite good relations with her employer. She says it’s “very clear” her employer has been put under pressure by intelligence agents to prevent her return to work, telling her they can't afford to take any risks as they have a young child. Mary has been cautioned for improper hijab once before - having initially gone to the police to complain of an...
  • House-church leaders acquitted of ‘acting against national security’
    Aziz (Andreas) Majidzadeh is 56 years old and lives in Tehran with his wife and two children. Two Iranian Christian converts have overturned on appeal a combined 10-year prison sentence for their leadership of a house-church. Aziz Majidzadeh, known as Andreas, and another convert who cannot be named, were sentenced to four and six years in prison respectively in July - a ruling that was not made public at the time. But on 9 November, an appeals court judge overturned the verdict, ruling there was insufficient evidence their leadership of a house-church amounted to “actions against national security”. The ruling has been hailed as “miraculous”, given the numerous rulings - including the initial judgement in this case - made against house-church members for alleged “actions against national security”. And it is another example of the subjective and arbitrary nature of law and order in Iran’s revolutionary courts, given that another Christian convert, Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for membership of a house-church, recently saw his third plea for a retrial rejected, despite using the very same arguments that have now seen two other converts acquitted. In his ruling, the judge at Branch 34 of...

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