Converts already facing charges re-arrested in Rasht

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 amended Article 500 of the penal code to five years in prison for “engaging in propaganda and education of deviant beliefs contrary to the holy Sharia” and “connections with foreign leaders”.

They are currently awaiting the outcome of their appeals, and were told last week that their hearing will be take place at Branch 18 of the Appeal Court of Gilan Province on 23 May.

The unorthodox “Church of Iran” denomination has been especially targeted by the authorities in recent years, with at least nine of its members – the majority from Rasht – currently serving prison sentences related to the practice of their faith, and another, Youhan Omidi, now serving a two-year term of internal exile following his release from prison and flogging for drinking wine as part of Communion.

*Update (10 May): Morteza was arrested on his return to court.