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Christian converts absolved by Supreme Court now face ‘propaganda’ charges

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.

However, early optimism has dissipated in recent weeks – not only with today’s news about Behnam and Babak but also with the re-imprisonment last month of another of the nine men, Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, to serve a separate six-year sentence – of which he had already been acquitted seven years previously – following the intervention of a different Supreme Court judge.