Iran’s Supreme Court agrees to review Christian convert’s 10-year prison sentence

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 lonely” and that her son had “done nothing; he only became a Christian”.

Earlier this week, Nasser wrote the latest of several open letters from prison – this time for the International Day of Education, to protest against the denial of education to Persian-speaking Christians.

In the letter, he said: “They want to wipe us [Persian-speaking Christians] out, and make it seem as though we never existed.

“… We have endured suffering and persecution for such a long time now, but we have not given up.”

Will the Supreme Court rule in Nasser’s favour?

In the past three months there have been three high-profile rulings in cases involving Christian converts, from different branches of the Supreme Court – one in the Christians’ favour, and two against.

Firstly, on 3 November, Branch 26 of the Supreme Court 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”.

But just days later, another branch of the Supreme Court ruled there was no grounds to review the case of a Christian couple sentenced to a combined 10 years in prison for their involvement in a house-church.

Finally, on 15 January, one of the nine converts released just two weeks previously, ahead of the review of their case ordered by Branch 26 of the Supreme Court, was suddenly re-arrested after Branch 2 of the same court ruled he should never have been acquitted of a previous six-year sentence, back in 2014, for “propagating Christianity”.

All this goes to show that there is little consistency in the rulings of Supreme Court judges, and as a result by no means any certainty that Nasser’s appeal will succeed.

As noted in Article18’s new annual report, released yesterday, “The differing decisions highlight the inconsistencies that plague the judicial system in Iran, and suggest that favourable rulings reflect the views of individual judges rather than systemic improvements at the heart of the judiciary.”

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