Christian convert Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh is now two years into his ten-year jail sentence for “acting against national security through the establishment of ‘house churches’”.
Nasser, who is now 57 years old, was first arrested in June 2016 alongside three Azerbaijanis at a private gathering. All four Christians were detained for over four months, including two months each in solitary confinement, before they were released after paying bail of 100 million tomans each (around $35,000).
The Azerbaijanis returned to their homes and families after their release and will not be forced to return to Iran to serve their sentences. But on 30 January 2017, after three months on bail, Nasser was taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison to begin his sentence.
He lost his appeal in November 2017 and has been denied medical treatment on several occasions, despite one of his family members telling Article18 he may lose all his teeth if not treated.
In August 2018, Nasser wrote an open letter to the authorities, asking: “Would it even be possible for a committed Christian – who was born and raised in Iran and whose forefathers lived in this land for thousands of years, and who is a servant to the God who has called him to a ministry of reconciliation – to act against the national security of his own country?”
He added: “Is the fellowship of a few Christian brothers and sisters in someone’s home, singing worship songs, reading the Bible and worshipping God acting against national security?
“Isn’t it a clear violation of civil and human rights, and an absolute injustice, to receive a ten-year prison sentence just for organising ‘house churches’, which is a sanctuary sanctified as a place to praise and worship God due to closure of churches in Iran?”
After his appeal failed, Nasser’s lawyer, Hussein Ahmadi-Niyaz, told Article18: “Throughout their interrogation process these detained Christians have emphasised that their relationship had purely a religious nature. They prayed together and spoke about the Bible.
“There has been no confession, neither is there any evidence that they wanted to overthrow or undermine the security of the state.”
Article18 calls for Nasser’s immediate release, and for the release of all other Christians in prison solely because of their faith. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, guarantees the right to freedom of religion, including the right to hold a religion of one’s choosing and to propagate that religion.