Unprecedented bail demand for Iranian-Armenian house-church leader

Unprecedented bail demand for Iranian-Armenian house-church leader

The family of an Iranian-Armenian house-church leader who remains in detention more than three weeks after his arrest have been told they must deposit 3 billion tomans (around $150,000) for his bail.

This is twice the previous highest amount demanded to secure the release of a Christian prisoner of conscience.

Joseph Shahbazian, 56, was arrested on the evening of Tuesday 30 June, as part of a coordinated operation targeting dozens of house-church members across three cities. 

Article18 can now confirm that at least 35 Christians were either arrested or interrogated following the coordinated raids on homes and house-churches in Tehran, Karaj and Malayer on 30 June and 1 July, a number that may eventually rise to above 50.

Most were released in the days after, either without charge, or on bail after being charged with “acting against national security by promoting Zionist Christianity”

However, Joseph and a handful of Christian converts were held for longer.

Three of the converts – Farhad Khazaee, 41, Salar Eshraghi Moghadam, who is around the same age, and Mina Khajavi, who is 57 years old – were recently released on bails of between 800 million and 1.2 billion tomans (between $40,000-60,000).

Mina was held for 20 days in all, and blindfolded the whole time so that she didn’t know where she was being held. When she was finally released on Monday, Mina was put in a car and dropped off on an unknown Tehran street, without either phone or money, so that she had to borrow a phone from a passerby to contact her family and ask them to find her and bring her home.

Last week, Mohabat News reported that the mother of another of the arrested converts had been detained after going to court to ask about her daughter.

Both the mother, Masoumeh Ghasemi, and daughter, Somayeh Sadegh (known as Sonya), were later released on a combined bail of 800 million tomans.

Meanwhile, Mohabat News reports that fellow convert Malihe Nazari, 47, remains in detention and that her bail has also been set at 3 billion tomans.

The previous highest bail demand for a Christian prisoner of conscience was the 1.5 billion toman bail set for five converts from Rasht last year, after they insisted on their own choice of lawyer.

Due to the depreciation of the Iranian rial, the value of the Rasht Christians’ bail was closer to 3 billion than it sounds, but the demand on Joseph and Malihe’s families is still exorbitant and unprecedented.

Indeed, Joseph’s family were initially told the figure was ten times lower – 300 million tomans – which, unusually, they must pay in cash.

Not possessing such an amount, they asked whether they could instead submit a property deed as a guarantee, as is common practice, but this request was denied.

Then, having managed to cobble together the originally stated amount, they deposited it at the court, only to be called later and told the required amount was actually ten times higher.

The family later returned to the court with two property deeds – one for the Shahbazian family home and the other belonging to Joseph’s elderly mother, who lives in the apartment below them. However, the total value of both properties, combined with the 300 million tomans they deposited in cash, is still 500 million short of the required bail, so the judge must now rule on whether or not to accept it. His verdict is due on Sunday.

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