Converts face prison for ‘promoting Christianity’

Converts face prison for ‘promoting Christianity’

Habib Heydari (left), and brothers Sam (centre) and Sasan Khosravi.

An appeals court in the southwestern Iranian city of Bushehr has upheld the one-year prison sentences given to three Christian converts for “propagating against the Islamic Republic through promoting Christianity”.

Habib Heydari and brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi were sentenced last June alongside a fourth convert, Pooriya Peyma, who was given a 91-day sentence, and Sam, Sasan and Pooriya’s wives, who received fines. However, only Habib, Sam and Sasan appealed.

The short appeals-court verdict, dated 27 January and pronounced by Judge Hedayat Rahavi, stated that, “based on the evidence against the appellants in the initial court, they are guilty of organisation of house-churches and promotion of Christianity, which are clear examples of propaganda against the state”.

Sam and Sasan also face a two-year exile from Bushehr following their release from prison, including a ban on any work within their specialist profession – the hospitality sector – while Sam’s wife, Maryam, has been banned from working for any national institution, including the hospital she’d worked at for 20 years.

Sam and Maryam are meanwhile still fighting for custody of their adopted daughter, after a court ruled in July last year that, as Christians, they were “unfit” to be the parents of their adopted daughter, Lydia, because she is considered Muslim.

In October, 120 lawyers and activists wrote an open letter to the head of the judiciary, asking him to overturn the decision after it was upheld by an appeals court.

But, as things stand, Sam and Maryam are set to lose custody of Lydia, on top of the work restrictions they are now both set to face, and Sam’s imprisonment and exile.

Lydia is Sam and Maryam’s only child, as the couple had been unable to have children of their own.

The other Christians also have young children – Sasan has a five-month-old daughter and four-year-old son, while Pooriya has a five-month-old son, and Habib’s wife is currently pregnant. 

Reacting to the verdict, human rights lawyer Hossein Ahmadiniaz told Article18 it was “a clear example of the widespread, systematic and targeted repression of Christian converts in Iran” and shows the “hatred and resentment” felt by Iran’s intelligence agencies towards them.

He added that the case was “a violation of Iran’s international obligations to respect the rights of religious minorities”, and said the judges “lacked the will and authority” to go against the wishes of the Ministry of Intelligence, highlighting the lack of judicial independence and fair-trial provision in Iran.

Iran continues to deny that anyone is prosecuted because of their religion, but the verdict in this case clearly states that the Christians’ propagation of their religion was considered an action against the state.

During an earlier court hearing, in December 2019, the judge also specifically named some of the Christian literature that had been found at their properties as evidence of their alleged crimes, including copies of ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘Getting to Know the Bible’.

After their initial sentencing, Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, said: “Condemning these people to prison because of their possession of Bibles and Christian symbols is a clear demonstration that Iran’s Foreign Minister and others aren’t telling the truth when they say that ‘no-one is put in prison in Iran simply because of their beliefs’.

“These people have done nothing that could be construed as ‘propaganda against the state’ or ‘acting against national security’, but nevertheless they have been treated so unjustly. The international community must hold Iran to account for this miscarriage of justice, and many others like it.”