House-church members still detained, families told upcoming appeal doomed

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 beliefs contrary to the holy Sharia” and “connections with foreign leaders”.

At least nine house-church members have now been sentenced under Article 500 since its controversial amendment last year.

Three are already serving three-year prison sentences – reduced from five years – and three more were sentenced last month, including an Iranian-Armenian Christian, Anooshavan Avedian, who was given a 10-year sentence.

Article18 calls on the international community to ask Iran to explain how its use of Article 500 to prosecute house-church members is in line with its obligations as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which enshrines religious freedom, including freedom to choose and to change one’s beliefs.

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