Iranian-Armenian pastor ‘pardoned’, released from prison

Iranian-Armenian pastor ‘pardoned’, released from prison

Joseph outside Evin Prison after his release last night.

Iranian-Armenian pastor Joseph Shahbazian has been “pardoned” and released after just over a year in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

The 59-year-old was last year given a 10-year sentence for holding church services in his home, though this sentence was reduced to two years in May. 

Joseph then applied for furlough, or to be released to serve the remainder of his sentence at home with an electronic tag. But early yesterday evening, the pastor was summoned to the Evin Prison office and informed that he had been “pardoned”. 

He was then given an hour to collect his things, and then finally set free from Evin Prison and able to return home to be with his family, including a nine-month-old granddaughter – Joseph’s first grandchild – born during his imprisonment.

Joseph has suffered ill health during his 13 months in prison, but for several months was denied a medical appointment, and even afterwards was not told of his diagnosis.

He recently discovered, by chance, that he was suspected to be suffering from a serious illness, though it is not known whether his “pardoning” relates to this fact.

Joseph was eligible for conditional release, having served more than one-third of his reduced sentence, but did not apply for it, because a conditional release would in effect be pledging not to engage in the activities for which he was first arrested – namely, organising and hosting house-church meetings with Christian converts.

Iranians from Armenian and Assyrian families are permitted a degree of freedom to worship – in their own languages – but churches that offered services in the Persian language have been systematically closed over the past 15 years.

As a result, Iranians who wish to worship in the national language of Persian – whether converts, Armenians, or Assyrians – have no place to worship.

This led to the rise of the so-called “house-churches” – private worship meetings in homes like Joseph’s. But these have been outlawed by the Iranian authorities, and referred to as “enemy groups”, and members systematically arrested and imprisoned on charges of “acting against national security”.

Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, commented: 

“We thank God for Joseph’s release, but he should never have been imprisoned in the first place only for exercising his constitutional right to a place to worship. 

“But despite the continued mistreatment of Christians like Joseph, we celebrate this rare piece of good news after a constant barrage of sad reports recently of an upsurge of arrests involving more than 100 Christians in the past three months alone. 

“We hope the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom – shown in the ongoing ‘women, life freedom’ protests – will be realised and will finally put an end to injustices like these.”

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