Converts lose appeals against five-year sentences 5th March 2020 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 lost their appeals against five-year prison sentences, though none of the men, nor their lawyers, were permitted to attend the 25 February hearing. A lawyer for one of the men told Article18 that Iran is attempting to expedite its judicial processes due to a backlog of cases related to recent protests and a general slowdown as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The nine – Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammad Vafadar – were sentenced in October to five years in prison for their religious activities, which were deemed “actions against national security”. Five of the men – Abdolreza, Shahrooz, Behnam, Babak and Mehdi – have been in Tehran’s Evin Prison since July. The other four are out of bail, but can now expect to be summoned to serve their sentences any day. Background The nine men were arrested during raids on their homes and house-churches within the space of a month in January and February 2019. 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, 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, where they have remained. The other four 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. All nine men are from the northern city of Rasht and are members of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran”, 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.