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Rasht Christians violently arrested

Rasht Christians violently arrested

On Sunday morning, 22 July, plainclothes officers attacked the Rasht home of “Church of Iran” pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, and, after beating him and his 16-year-old son, took him away to begin his 10-year jail sentence.

After the agents had rung the bell, it was Yousef’s teenage son Danial who opened the door. Article18 understands that before he could call for his father, the officers suddenly covered Danial’s mouth and stunned him with an electroshock weapon, incapacitating him.

When Yousef came to the door, he told the agents he would accompany them without resistance, and invited them to calm down. But the agents stunned him with the taser as well, and beat him, before taking him away.

The pastor contacted his family a day after his arrest and informed them that he was being held in “quarantine” on a ward in Evin Prison where conditions are known to be dire – the authorities usually keep prisoners in this ward to punish them.

In the following three days, the three men sentenced alongside Yousef – Mohammad Reza Omidi, Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mosayebzadeh and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee – were also taken to begin their sentences.

The four men were arrested at a private home in Rasht on on 13 May 2016. Then a year later, on 24 June 2017, Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh, head of Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, sentenced them to 10 years each in prison for “forming a house church” and “promoting Zionist Christianity”.

Yousef was also sentenced to two years in exile in the city of Nik Shahr, in far southeastern Sistan and Baluchestan Province, while Mohammad Reza was sentenced to two years’ exile in Borazjan, in south-western Bushehr Province.

Judge Ahmadzadeh last year sentenced three other Christians – Victor Bet-Tamraz, Hadi Asgari and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi – to 10 years each in prison and a fourth, Amin Afshar Naderi, to 15 years.

This is not the first time Yousef has been behind bars. In 2009, he was charged with “apostasy”, then sentenced to death in 2010, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011. The pastor was repeatedly asked to renounce his faith during court hearings, to save himself from the death penalty, but refused.

However, the pressure of the international community, human rights organisations and churches around the world led the Supreme Court to overturn its decision; Yousef was acquitted of “apostasy” and sentenced instead to three years in prison for “propaganda against the system”.

After serving his sentence, he was released in September 2012, but the pressure of the Iranian government on Yousef and his family continued.

His son, Danial, was prevented from progressing at school because he refused to sit an Islamic religious education test.

The authorities had insisted that Danial participate in the test, against his and his parents’ wishes, in addition to attending Islamic teachings and Quran classes. This is contrary to the rights of Iranians born in Christian homes; according to Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, parents have the right to pass on their own religious teachings to their children, and the authorities are not permitted to intervene.