Esmaeil Maghrebinezhad faces prison as final appeals fail

Esmaeil Maghrebinezhad faces prison as final appeals fail

Iranian Christian convert Esmaeil Maghrebinezhad has lost his appeal against the two remaining prison sentences issued to him earlier this year.

Esmaeil, who is 65 years old and an official member of the Anglican Church, initially received three sentences amounting to a total of six years in prison.

Esmaeil was informed on Sunday that the first sentence – of three years in prison for “insulting the sacred” – had been overturned on appeal. But yesterday he was told that the other two sentences – for “propaganda against the state” and “membership of a group hostile to the regime” – had been upheld.

The only change to the verdict, issued by Judge Jamshid Kashkouli at the 17th Branch of the appeal court in Shiraz, was a reduction of the sentence for the alleged offence of “propaganda against the state”, in recognition of a recent amendment to the law, such that the maximum jail term that can be issued is now seven months and 31 days. 

However, in reality this reduction is likely to make little difference to Esmaeil, as in Revolutionary Court cases where there is more than one sentence, the defendant is usually mandated to serve only the longer sentence – in this case the two-year sentence for “membership of a hostile group”.

Article18’s Mansour Borji commented after Esmaeil’s initial sentencing that, given that he is a member of the Anglican Church, this particular charge shows that “such blanket labelling is inaccurately applied to any Christian arrested for their religious activities, as the revolutionary courts try to justify their violations of religious freedom”.

In a recent video interview with Article18, Esmaeil’s daughter, Mahsa, who now lives in the United States, told Article18 of her concerns should her father lose his appeal, explaining that he is the sole carer for her brother, who is not well.

“One of mine and my family’s concerns is that if these sentences are enforced and my father is imprisoned, given his age and physical condition, first of all what is going to happen to him, and also what will be the consequences for my brother, for whom my father is his only support,” she said.

Mahsa added that she was “shocked” at the sentences in the first place “because my father really didn’t do anything – he didn’t do anything illegal or commit any crime. He’s just a Christian who lives out his faith, so we expected his innocence to be so clear that the judge would acquit him”.

Responding to the specific charges against him, Mahsa added: “My father is 65 years old, so he has nearly a whole lifetime behind him and in all the years that I have known him, as his daughter, I have never seen him do anything to oppose the regime. He has always respected different religions, always respected the law, and never did anything against the regime, nor has he ever been a member of any group that was against the regime, so I was really surprised. What kind of policy or law is it that condemns someone like my father to prison for doing nothing more than being a Christian?”

Having failed with his appeal, Esmaeil can now expect to be summoned to serve his sentence any day. His only remaining hope is a further retrial, though even that would not prevent his summons to prison.