Monthly visits cancelled for pastor imprisoned 1,000 miles from family

Monthly visits cancelled for pastor imprisoned 1,000 miles from family

A pastor serving a six-year sentence in a prison 1,000 miles from his wife and daughter has been told he will no longer be permitted to return home to visit them each month.

Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, who is known as Matthias, has been serving a six-year sentence for “propagating Christianity” since his previous acquittal was overturned in January 2022.

Initially, the pastor, who belongs to the “Church of Iran” denomination, was held in the prison in his home city of Anzali, in north Iran, but in July 2023 he was without warning transferred to a prison in Minab, in the far south of Iran.

Four months later, Matthias was permitted the chance to fly home for the first time for a short visit, and in January 2024 he was told he would be permitted to visit his family monthly for the remainder of his sentence.

But last month, after only a few days of his latest home visit, Matthias was called unexpectedly and ordered to return to the prison, whereupon he was informed that his so-called “open sentence” would no longer apply to him.

The reasoning behind the decision is unclear, but an informed source told Article18 the order came from the Ministry of Intelligence.

In recent years, the Iranian authorities have begun to provide more “open sentences” to individuals serving lesser offences or who have served a certain proportion of their sentences, in a bid to reduce prison numbers.

Under such “open sentences”, a prisoner may be able to work at a prison factory and to spend some time outside the prison.

In November last year, Article18 reported that three other “Church of Iran” members had been permitted to live at home provided that they report back daily to a prison factory for work.

Similarly, Matthias had been working for two weeks per month at a factory at Minab Prison, then flying at his own expense back to Anzali for the other two weeks of the month.

But Matthias, who was recently “adopted” by a German politician, will no longer have access to the scheme and does not know when he may next be able to see his wife, Anahita, and daughter, Hannah.

Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, commented: “This is the latest crushing blow to befall Matthias and his family, who have endured so much since his conversion and subsequent leadership of house-churches.

“Matthias’s first prison arrest dates back to 2006, so for nearly 20 years he and his family have been placed under relentless pressure simply because of their faith and religious activities.

“Unfortunately Matthias is far from alone in this regard. We call upon the Iranian authorities to stop persecuting individuals on account of their religious beliefs, in line with their regular claims at the UN and elsewhere that ‘no-one is persecuted in Iran because of their beliefs’.”

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