House-church member charged with ‘making false religious claims’

House-church member charged with ‘making false religious claims’

A house-church member in a city near Tehran has been charged with “teaching activities that educate in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam, through making false religious claims”. 

Hossein Sha’bani, who is 47 years old and known as Youhana, was informed of the charges at a prosecutor’s office in Karaj on 20 February.

He is the latest house-church member to be charged under Article 500 of the penal code, after it was controversially amended in 2021.

At least 14 Christians have since been sentenced under the amended law, including Alireza Nourmohammadi, who belongs to the same house-church as Youhana and who was recently re-arrested and also charged, alongside his brother, with “making false religious claims”.

The charges against Youhana, who is married and has two young children, came after he was summoned on 8 January by Ministry of Intelligence agents who interrogated him for three hours about his house-church.

On 16 January, he was told he must present himself before the prosecutor to answer the aforementioned charges, which were officially pronounced at the prosecutor’s office on 20 February, after which Youhana was released on bail of 300 million tomans ($3,500).

In November last year, the UN Human Rights Committee called on Iran to “repeal or amend” Article 500, which one committee member said allowed for “further suppression of religious freedom and freedom of expression, especially for religious minorities”.

The Committee said Iranians of all faiths should be able to “manifest [their] religion or belief without being penalised” and that members of non-recognised religious minorities must be “protected against harassment, discrimination and any other human rights violation”.

Iran must “immediately release those imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief”, and ensure they are provided with “adequate compensation”, the Committee said.

Article18’s new annual report, released one day before Youhana’s charges were pronounced, revealed that at least 166 Christians were arrested and 21 imprisoned last year as a result of their faith or religious activities.