Christians lose appeal against imprisonment and fines for house-church activities

Christians lose appeal against imprisonment and fines for house-church activities

Left to right: Malihe Nazari, Mina Khajavi, Joseph Shahbazian, Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh, and Masoumeh Ghasemi.

An Iranian court of appeal has upheld the sentences of five Christians facing a total of 22 years in prison and the equivalent of $2,225 in fines for their involvement in house-churches.

Joseph Shahbazian, 58, a “recognised” Christian of Armenian descent, faces 10 years in prison, and Christian converts Mina Khajavi, 59, and Malihe Nazari, 49, six years.

Meanwhile, mother and daughter Masoumeh Ghasemi and Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh, who are also converts, must pay fines of 24 million ($950) and 40 million ($1,275) tomans respectively.

The other two converts in the case – Salar Eshraghi Moghadam and Farhad Khazaee, who were sentenced to four and one years in prison, respectively – were not part of the appeal.

All seven Christians were convicted in June of “forming and operating illegal organisations [house-churches] with the aim of disrupting the security of the country”.

Judges Abasali Hozavan and Khosrow Khalili Mehdiyarji of the 36th Branch of the Appeal Court of Tehran said the defence had failed to meet the necessary criteria for the appeal to be considered.

But their lawyer, Iman Soleimani, told Article18 the judgment had been reached “without an actual hearing, and with a complete disregard of the extensive and well-reasoned defence offered”.

According to Mr Soleimani, the court proceedings showed a “disregard of absolute legal and juridical principles, such as the principles of equal opportunity [to dispute accusations], legality of crimes and punishments, and right to a defence.”

The lawyer added that the copy of the verdict he had received came without any letterhead. 

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, explained: “This is a common practice in cases of prisoners of conscience, where the Islamic Republic does not want to officially own the unlawful decisions they have taken, for fear of social and political backlash.”

The judgment also made a passing reference to “the extent of the activities” of the accused, without giving any explanation.

“Neither in the court, nor now in the appeal, has there ever been any mention of what ‘extensive’ activities they’re talking about,” said Mr Borji, “so it’s a claim without any substantiation.”

He added: “It fits the pattern of complete disregard to the law, and clearly shows that they’ve not engaged even in the slightest way with the extensive legal reasoning the defence lawyer has provided. 

“None of this has even been considered in the verdict, nor responded to. This clearly displays Iran’s sense of impunity, as the international community continues to stand by and watch Iran’s blatant disregard of human rights.”

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