Iranian Christian convert with Parkinson’s disease faces prison

Iranian Christian convert with Parkinson’s disease faces prison

An Iranian Christian convert with advanced Parkinson’s disease and his wife have been told to expect a summons any day to begin their prison sentences for belonging to a house-church.

Homayoun Zhaveh, who is 62, and his wife Sara Ahmadi, 42, were sentenced in November 2020 to two and 11 years in prison, respectively, for membership and leadership of the church, though their case has not been made public until now.

Sara was in fact given two prison sentences – of eight years for leadership of the church, and three years for membership. They were also banned from foreign travel or membership of any social or political group for two years after their release, and given six months’ community service at a centre for the mentally disabled.

Their appeals were rejected in December 2020, and on Sunday, 14 March, Sara and Homayoun were informed that their case has been forwarded on to the government body responsible for enforcing judgments, which may therefore summon them at any moment.

Details of case

Homayoun and Sara were arrested by agents from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence in June 2019 as they holidayed with several other Christian families in the city of Amol, near the Caspian Sea.

The other Christians were also questioned, but only Homayoun and Sara were detained – first in Sari, near Amol, and then in the notorious Evin Prison back in their home city of Tehran.

Homayoun was released a month later, but Sara was held for a total of 67 days, including 33 days in solitary confinement – mostly within the Intelligence Ministry’s Ward 209 – during which time she was subjected to extreme psychological torture.

Their sentences were pronounced by Judge Iman Afshari on 14 November 2020, following a hearing three days earlier at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

On 30 December 2020, appeal-court judge Ahmad Zargar upheld the sentences, but ruled that Sara must serve only the longer sentence of eight years and not also the three-year sentence. (Judge Zargar was enforcing a legal norm in Iran whereby if a person faces two charges of a similar nature, for the same action, only the one with the higher penalty stands.)

The couple’s lawyer had argued in his appeal that the law was “unclear” on how meeting as a group of Christians could be construed as membership of an “illegal organisation”.

“My clients have always insisted that they haven’t engaged in any actions against national security, nor do they harbour any animosity or hostility towards the government,” the lawyer stated, before adding that Homayoun’s condition would prevent him from partaking in any anti-security actions, even were he to wish to do so.

Instead, the 62-year-old now faces years in prison – and during a global pandemic in which individuals of his age and condition have been proven to be at the greatest risk.

Neither Homayoun nor Sara have as yet been offered a Covid-19 vaccine.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, gave this reaction: “To hand down a prison sentence to a man of Homayoun’s age, suffering with advanced Parkinson’s – and only because of his membership of a house-church – would be shocking were it not for Iran’s proven track record of systematically persecuting Persian-speaking Christians, regardless of their age, health, or any other reasonable considerations.

“We call on Iran to immediately reverse its decision, and to stop persecuting Christian converts like Homayoun and Sara for the peaceful practice of their faith.”

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