Prison deadline looms for Parkinson’s sufferer and wife

Prison deadline looms for Parkinson’s sufferer and wife

An Iranian Christian convert with advanced Parkinson’s disease and his wife have been told they must submit themselves to Tehran’s Evin Prison by 15 June.

Homayoun Zhaveh, 62, and Sara Ahmadi, 43, face two and eight years in prison, respectively, for belonging to a house-church.

Christianity is a recognised minority religion in Iran, but converts like Homayoun and Sara aren’t recognised as Christians and are prohibited from attending the services of Iran’s recognised ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Christians.

As a result, Iran’s converts, of whom there are believed to be at least several hundred thousand, have to choose between practising their faith alone at home, or taking the risk to join a house-church, which the Iranian regime refers to as “enemy groups” with “anti-security purposes”.

(In reality, house-churches look very similar to the “house groups” Christians around the world belong to, simply providing a place for Christians to meet together to worship and pray.)

It is within this context that Homayoun and Sara were sentenced to prison in November 2020. 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.

Sara was in fact sentenced to 11 years in prison in all – eight years for leadership of the church, and three years for membership – but in December 2020 an appeal-court judge ruled that Sara must serve only the longer sentence of eight years and not also the three-year sentence. (The judge 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.)

Sara and Homayoun received a summons to begin their sentences back in March, but their lawyer filed for a retrial with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court acknowledged receipt of the letter, but this did not mean their case would necessarily be heard.

And on 16 May, those responsible for securing the couple’s release on bail received a written warning that if Sara and Homayoun did not appear at Evin Prison within 30 days, the property deeds they had submitted as collateral would be forfeited.

Sara and Homayoun’s bank accounts have since been frozen.

The couple’s only hope now is that the Supreme Court takes on their case, or at least agrees to allow Homayoun to pay a fine instead of going to prison, owing to his ill health.

But even were this to happen and Sara still had to go to prison, Homayoun would lose not only his wife but also his primary carer.

Article18’s advocacy director Mansour Borji said: “We call on the Iranian authorities to overturn this cruel and unjust sentence. We also call on the international community to be the voice for this Christian couple, and to apply maximum pressure on the Iranian regime until it ceases to persecute innocent citizens like Homayoun and Sara for the peaceful practice of their beliefs.”

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