Armenian faces court hearing on charges of ‘promoting Christianity’

Armenian faces court hearing on charges of ‘promoting Christianity’

An Armenian Christian who remains in Evin Prison nearly five months after his arrest faces a first court hearing this Sunday on charges of “propaganda against the state through the promotion of Christianity”.

Hakop Gochumyan, who is 35 years old, will be tried at the 26th Branch of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court on 7 January.

Hakop’s wife, Elisa, an Iranian-Armenian who was also detained in Evin Prison for two months before her release in October, recorded an emotional video message in support of her husband just before Christmas.

In the video, a copy of which was sent to Article18, Elisa described how she and Hakop were arrested in August by agents from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence while having dinner with some friends.

“I still don’t know why they detained us,” Elisa said. “We are Christians and we did nothing illegal.

“Christmas is near and our children ask me: ‘When is daddy coming home?’ I don’t know how to answer them.”

Elisa described her time in Evin Prison as “the hardest days of my life”.

Hakop and Elisa were two of over 100 Christians arrested within the space of three months last summer in Iran, but they remain the only ones whose names and faces have been publicised.

The couple, who live in Armenia, were visiting Iran with their two children when they were arrested on 15 August in Pardis, just outside Tehran.

After over two months in detention, Elisa was released on bail equivalent to $40,000 on 19 October, after which she returned to Armenia to be reunited with her children, who had returned home in September with a relative. 

Elisa’s bail had initially been set at $100,000, but her family protested that they could not afford the amount, and it was reduced by half. 

Elisa is the daughter of a well-known Iranian-Armenian pastor, Rafi Shahverdian, who passed away last year, having led a church in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, since leaving Iran in 1993.

Christianity is a recognised minority religion in Iran, and Iranians of Armenian and Assyrian descent are afforded a degree of freedom to worship, provided that they do not evangelise to Iranians from Muslim backgrounds.

Church services are strictly monitored to ensure non-Muslims do not attend, while churches that once offered services in the national language of Persian have been forced to cease this provision or to close.

Several Christians of Armenian and Assyrian descent have been arrested and imprisoned in recent years for continuing to preach to Iranians from a Muslim background, such as Iranian-Armenian pastor Anooshavan Avedian, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence on charges of “engaging in propaganda contrary to and disturbing to the holy religion of Islam”.

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