Converts cleared of wrongdoing in second trial on identical charges 29th November 2022 News Left to right: Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari, and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Three “Church of Iran” members serving five-year prison sentences for “spreading deviant beliefs contrary to Islam” have been cleared of wrongdoing in a second trial on identical charges. Meanwhile, in a separate development, one of the men, Morteza Mashoodkari, has had his prison sentence reduced by half. The second trial took place on 2 November at a Rasht Revolutionary Court. A week later, Morteza was informed that he had also been granted a “partial pardon” and reduction of his sentence to two and a half years. Morteza is now on 10 days’ leave from prison, having become eligible for furlough, having served a sufficient proportion of his reduced sentence. No explanation was given for Morteza’s pardon – nor why it was only partial – while there has been no such pardon for the two other “Church of Iran” members imprisoned alongside him, Ahmad Sarparast and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh. Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, said the decision to pardon only one of the three appeared “completely random”, and linked to a wider pardoning of thousands of prisoners in recent months, including Christian converts Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh and Fariba Dalir. “While all three converts are part of the same case and the charges under which they are unjustly convicted is identical, the judicial authorities have offered no explanation as to why the reduced prison sentence has not also been offered to the other two converts,” he said. Mr Borji added that the ruling in this second trial has no bearing on the first, even though the charges were identical. Meanwhile, the lawyer who defended the three men at their most recent court appearance, Mustafa Nili, is also now in detention, having been arrested at a Tehran airport a week after the hearing in Rasht. Background Left to right: Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi. Morteza, Ahmad and Ayoob are the second trio of “Church of Iran” members to have been imprisoned under the amended Article 500 of the penal code, after Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi, who have been in prison since November 2021. Morteza, Ahmad and Ayoob were first arrested in September 2021, and sentenced in April 2022. They were rearrested a month later and have been in prison ever since. Many members of the “Church of Iran” have been imprisoned in recent years, including Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who once faced the death sentence for “apostasy”. The denomination’s views on the Trinity are unorthodox, leading some sections of the wider Church to disassociate themselves from the group. The controversy surrounding them has also been used by the Iranian regime as a way of presenting its members as “deviant”. For example, in Ahmad, Morteza and Ayoob’s initial trial, the prosecutor called them “Satan-worshippers”. In their first last defence in February, the three men said they were “just Christians worshipping according to the Bible” and “have not engaged in any propaganda against the regime or any action against national security”.