House-church leaders summoned to begin five-year prison sentences

House-church leaders summoned to begin five-year prison sentences

Left to right: Khalil Dehghanpour, Mohammad Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar.

Four Iranian converts have been summoned to begin their five-year jail sentences for leading house-churches, for which they were convicted of “acting against national security”.

Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammad Vafadar were summoned on Thursday 28 May and told they must submit themselves at Tehran’s Evin Prison by tomorrow.

They had been awaiting summonses since their appeals were rejected in February.

The four men were sentenced in October 2019, alongside five others from the same house-church network in the northern city of Rasht: Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi and Behnam Akhlaghi. 

Those five are already serving their sentences, having been detained since July last year, when they were unable to pay the high bail demanded from them after they insisted on being defended by their own lawyer.

The nine men were arrested in a series of raids on their homes and house-churches in January and February 2019.

Hossein and Khalil were detained following a raid on the house-church meeting they were leading on 29 January; Abdolreza was arrested on 10 February during a raid on his home; Kamal, Mohammad and Shahrooz were arrested at a house-church gathering on 15 February; Babak and Mehdi were arrested at two separate house-churches on 23 February; and Behnam was summoned to the offices of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Sepah) that same day.

They were each helping to lead services in the absence of their imprisoned pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, alongside whom they will now all be incarcerated in Evin Prison.

Two of them – Abdolreza and Kamal – had been arrested before for their religious activities.

Seven of them – all except Abdolreza and Shahrooz – were released on bail in March 2019, after depositing the equivalent of $13,000 each. Abdolreza and Shahrooz were detained.

Then in July 2019, 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 of lawyer 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.

On 13 October, all nine men were sentenced to five years in prison, after a hearing on 23 September. 

Their appeals were rejected following a hearing on 25 February 2020.