Christian convert, 65, sentenced to three years in prison

Christian convert, 65, sentenced to three years in prison

Esmaeil Maghrebinezhad, a 65-year-old convert to Christianity, has been sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs”.

He was sentenced under Article 513 of the Islamic Penal Code, which provides for a punishment of between one and five years in prison.

His sentencing, on 11 January, followed a court hearing on 8 January at Branch 105 of the Civil Court in Shiraz.

He has 20 days to appeal.

Esmaeil, who was arrested at his home in January 2019, is still facing two other charges: “propaganda against the the Islamic Republic”, “membership of a group hostile to the regime”.

A fourth charge, of apostasy, for which he could have faced the death sentence, was dropped at a court hearing in November.

At that same November court hearing, the judge ruled that the case against him regarding “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” was “applicable”, because he had created a Telegram channel in which he had “promoted evangelical Christianity”.


The 8 January hearing focused solely on the charge of “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs in cyberspace”, for which Esmaeil was found guilty because he had reacted with a smiley-face emoji to a message that had been sent to his phone, which poked fun at the ruling Iranian clerics.

Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, said the sentence was a “disproportionate reaction to something so ordinary.

“The other charges that Esmaeil is facing, as well as the now-quashed charge of apostasy, related to his conversion to Christianity. This may reveal the real reason why he’s been charged for something that most ordinary Iranians do on a daily basis.”

Esmaeil’s defence team had pointed out that he was not even the originator of the joke.

Esmaeil’s family were initially hopeful of better news, after the charges of apostasy, for which he could have faced the death sentence, were dropped.

In October, Esmaeil’s bail was increased tenfold after he responded to a question from the judge about whether he had insulted Islam and was an apostate by saying that he had never insulted Islam and that different ayatollahs had different opinions over the question of apostasy.


Esmaeil converted to Christianity nearly 40 years ago and has since been regularly harassed by Iran’s security forces, despite Iran’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, both guaranteeing freedom of religion, including the right to hold a religion of one’s choosing and to propagate that religion.

Esmaeil’s daughter, Mahsa, told Article18 last year she believed her father was being harassed in part because she and her husband, Nathan, who now live in America, continue to pastor Christians in Iran through the Internet.

Article18’s latest annual report, released yesterday, highlighted the harassment faced by Mahsa’s father and also Nathan’s parents, who received several visits from intelligence agents in 2019, with the agenda of putting pressure on them and damaging their reputation in the community.


Around ten years after Esmaeil’s conversion, an attempt was made on his life, which he only narrowly survived. 

Esmaeil’s late wife, Mahvash, also converted to Christianity, in 1999, but when she died, in 2013, Esmaeil was prevented from burying her in a Christian cemetery, despite a letter from the head of the Anglican Church in Iran, Bishop Azad Marshall, stating that she was a “committed member of the Anglican Church in Iran, who had been baptised and confirmed”.

Instead, her body was taken to a Muslim cemetery, where she was buried following a Muslim ceremony in the presence of security guards, with only five family members allowed to attend.

Mahvash had also been interrogated on numerous occasions during the first years after her husband’s conversion and was fired from her job.