12 Christians sentenced to year’s imprisonment in Bushehr

12 Christians sentenced to year’s imprisonment in Bushehr

Shapoor Jozi and his wife Parastou Zariftash are among the 12

The Islamic Revolutionary Court of Bushehr has sentenced 12 Christians to one year’s imprisonment each for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic for the benefit of Christianity”.

These Bushehr Christians, most of whom were official members of the Assemblies of God church in Iran, were arrested back in April 2015, following extensive operations by intelligence agents in the city.

Plainclothes agents raided their homes and confiscated materials including books, pamphlets, family photographs, and paintings and carpets imprinted with the image of Christ and Christian symbols. These items were described in court as “means of committing a crime”.

After initial interrogation, two of the Christians were detained and the others were temporarily released on bail. But each of the Christians were required to report for a series of lengthy interrogations.

The Christians initially didn’t want any publicity, which is why the case is only now being reported, but even now several of the Christians have asked to remain nameless.

The proceedings have taken two and a half years to get to this point. Finally, Judge Abbas Asgari, head of Branch 1 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Bushehr, charged each of them with “propaganda against the Islamic Republic in favour of Zionist Christianity by organising home gatherings, inviting people to Christianity and converting to the Christian world,” and, under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, he sentenced them to one year in prison.

“We were official members of the Assemblies of God Church,” one of the Christians, Shapoor Jozi, whose wife Parastou Zariftash was also sentenced, told Article18. “But after the closure of the Assemblies of God Church in 2013, we were also put under pressure, and it gradually reached a point where in 2015 all of us were arrested.”

He added: “My wife and I denied the allegations and insisted that we were only Christian believers and had no connection with any organisation or organ and did not propogate, but they insisted to somehow link us to organisations abroad.

“Due to the high pressures and security threats, we have so far refused to report to human rights and media organisations. But contrary to claims by Iranian government officials, keeping the silence about the incident for the past three years has not helped reduce our final verdict.”

During this time, the Bushehr Christians were subjected to extreme psychological pressure, or so-called “white torture”. According to received reports, “humiliation, the threat of physical torture and even murder” has been used to put pressure on the Christians to “deny their Christian faith and return to Islam”.

According to the law passed by the Iranian Parliament in 2004, titled “Respect for Legitimate Freedoms and Citizenship Rights”, “any torture of a defendant in order to obtain a confession or any coercion to achieve another outcome is prohibited and has no legal validity”.

Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, described the allegations against the Christian converts and the lengthy judicial proceedings as “an example of an inquisition and a clear violation of their freedom of religion and belief”, adding that “following an ineffective policy in recent years, security agencies have tried to eliminate Persian-speaking Christianity in a seemingly legal manner, while exerting illegal pressure and making false accusations through the revolutionary courts.”

Last year’s report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom noted: “Over the past year, there were numerous incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, threatening church members, and arresting and imprisoning worshippers, particularly Christian converts… and often they were charged with unfounded national-security-related crimes.”