Nine converts given five-year sentences 18th October 2019 News Clockwise from top-left: Mohammad Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour, Behnam Akhlaghi, Mehdi Khatibi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Shahrooz Eslamdoust and Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad. (Middle East Concern) Nine converts have been sentenced to five years each in prison for “acting against national security”. The nine men – Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammad Vafadar – are all members of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran” in the northern city of Rasht. The verdict was pronounced on 13 October after a final hearing on 23 September. All nine are appealing. The men were arrested during raids on their homes and house-churches in January and February. Seven of them – all except Abdolreza and Shahrooz – were released on bail in March, after posting the equivalent of $13,000 each. Abdolreza and Shahrooz were detained. In July, five of the men – Abdolreza, Shahrooz, Behnam, Babak, and Mehdi – had their bail increased tenfold after insisting upon being defended by their own lawyer. Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, who has earned the nickname the “Judge of Death” for his harsh treatment of prisoners of conscience, rejected their choice and demanded they were defended by a lawyer of the court’s choosing. When they refused, the judge increased their bail amount to the equivalent of $130,000 each, and, being unable and unprepared to pay such an amount, they were transferred to Ward 4 of Tehran’s Evin Prison. The other four – Khalil, Hossein, Kamal, and Mohammad – decided to defend themselves and were therefore released on their pre-existing bail (the equivalent of $13,000 each) until their next hearing, when the judge accused them of promoting Zionism and said the Bible had been falsified. The nine men are all members of the same church as imprisoned pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and fellow converts Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, Mohammad Ali Mossayebzadeh and Mohammad Reza Omidi, who are all serving ten-year prison sentences. Pastor Yousef recently ended a three-week-long hunger strike, which he had undertaken to protest against the denial of education to his two sons – because they refused to study Islamic Studies and the Quran. Members of recognised religious minorities – including Christians, as well as Jews and Zoroastrians – are ordinarily exempt from classes in Islamic Studies and the Quran, but children of converts, such as Yousef’s, are not afforded this right as they are still considered Muslims.