Christian convert’s third plea for retrial rejected

Christian convert’s third plea for retrial rejected

Imprisoned Christian convert Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh has been informed that his third request for a retrial has been rejected.

Nasser, who is 59 years old, is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison because of his membership of a house-church, for which he was convicted in July 2017 of “acting against national security”.

He has been in prison since January 2018.

In his latest petition for a retrial, Nasser argued, with the help of fellow inmate and human rights lawyer Amirsalar Davoudi, that he had done nothing that “constituted a legally defined crime”.

Nasser’s appeal was rejected on 16 September but he only heard about it last week.

“Organisation of house-churches has been associated with an act of crime,” Nasser’s petition stated, “but how can house-churches be considered a crime when holding Islamic religious ceremonies in a house is not?

“In house-churches, people read the same books that official Armenian-speaking churches read, and if we are all equal before the law, it is highly perplexing that based on the reports by the Ministry of intelligence, I’ve been accused, when the Ministry of Intelligence has no rights of legislation. How could they identify my action as a crime? When the believers in Jesus Christ gather together to read the Bible, one government ministry cannot unilaterally consider that act a crime. 

“Being a follower of a certain religion, and performing its religious rites, should not be criminalised as an act of sabotage or overthrowing the government.”

Nasser’s petition was rejected by majority vote, in a ruling dated 16 September but only communicated to him last week.

In their ruling, the judges said they found no grounds for a retrial, as Nasser had failed to meet any of the criteria necessary under articles 474 and 476 of the Criminal Procedural Code.

Nasser’s argument was based on the seventh point of Article 474, regarding the action taken “not constituting a crime” or the conviction being “greater than the legally defined crime”.

Nasser was helped in his petition by Amirsalar Davoudi, a human rights lawyer alongside whom he is now imprisoned. (Photo: Center For Human Rights in Iran)

However, in their short written verdict, the judges said that, “After consideration, and recognition that the prisoner’s previous two requests for a retrial have been turned down by this court … And after reading the report by Mr Gol-Tapeh, and looking through his documents, we have come to the following decision by majority vote: that the appeal doesn’t have sufficient grounds under Article 474 or Article 476 for a retrial.”

Reacting to the news, Nasser’s former lawyer Hossein Ahmadiniaz tweeted: “He is completely innocent. His crime is peace, friendship, honour and human dignity. Nasser defended himself tenaciously in court. I will always testify to his courage, bravery and honesty and I am proud to have been the lawyer of such an honourable man.”

‘Is reading the Bible acting against national security?’

This isn’t the first time Nasser has queried how membership of a house-church can be considered an “action against national security”.

In an open letter to the judiciary in August 2018, Nasser posed three questions:

“Would it be even possible for a committed Christian – who was born and raised in Iran and whose forefathers lived in this land for thousands of years, and who is a servant to the God who has called him to a ministry of reconciliation – to act against the national security of his own country?

“Is the fellowship of a few Christian brothers and sisters in someone’s home, singing worship songs, reading the Bible and worshiping God acting against national security?

“Isn’t it in fact a clear violation of civil and human rights, and an absolute injustice, to receive a 10-year prison sentence just for organising house-churches, which is a sanctuary sanctified as a place to praise and worship God due to closure of churches in Iran?”

Yet, despite his continued protestations, Nasser’s pleas for justice have been dismissed for a third time and he is now set to remain in prison, if forced to serve his whole sentence, until he is 66 years old.

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