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‘We are just Christians worshipping according to the Bible,’ say converts in last defence

‘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.

In June last year, three other Christian converts, from Karaj, were sentenced to five years in prison under Article 500, later reduced to three years on appeal.

Ahmad, Morteza and Ayoob were officially charged on 25 January at the 4th Branch of the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Rasht with “engaging in propaganda and educational activities for deviant beliefs contrary to the holy Sharia”, and “connections with foreign leaders”.

And it is the last element – alleged organisational links or funding from abroad – that could be the difference between a five or 10-year prison sentence.

In bringing the charges, the prosecutor, Hassan Rajabi, specifically referenced the trio’s membership of the “Church of Iran”, and went on to label them “Satan-worshippers who believe in the end of the world, the divisions between sects and races, the return of the Jews to their promised land, and the superiority of this race [Jews] to others, which proves the claim that they are working for foreign elements”.

And while this denomination has non-traditional views regarding the Trinity, much of the rest of its teachings are entirely in keeping with the wider Church, making allegations of “Satan worship” seem an obvious attempt to vilify the group and lessen public sympathy for them.

Article18’s advocacy director Mansour Borji commented: “This kind of labelling of a religious group, whatever their belief, in an official court document, shows a clear disregard by the Iranian authorities to their responsibilities as signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the rights to freedom of belief for all citizens, whatever those beliefs are.

“Even the wording of Article 500 is at odds with Iran’s responsibilities in this regard, as it is clearly not the state’s job to decide whether an individual’s beliefs are ‘normal’ or not, let alone to prosecute them for these beliefs.”