Christian converts given maximum five-year sentences under penal code amendments

Christian converts given maximum five-year sentences under penal code amendments

Left to right: Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi.

Three Christian converts have been given the maximum sentence of five years each in prison under controversial recent amendments to Iran’s penal code.

Amin Khaki, Milad Goodarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi, who were also each fined 40 million tomans ($1,800), have been convicted of “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam” – words lifted directly from the newly amended Article 500.

They were informed of the verdicts, which they intend to appeal, on Saturday, 26 June, at the 4th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Karaj.

They had been summoned two days earlier, following a short hearing at the same court on Monday 21 June, during which the Christians were forced to defend themselves after the judge, Mehdi Zeinali, claimed their lawyer had not completed the necessary documentation. 

Having asked whether they may bring their lawyer with them on Saturday, the Christians were told they were not entitled to a lawyer – a clear breach both of their rights and Iran’s constitution.

Article 35 of the constitution states that “in all courts” (italics added), defendants are “entitled to select a lawyer for themselves”.

Amin, Milad and Alireza, who have already spent time in prison for their Christian activities, are the first known examples of Christians being charged – and now convicted – under the newly amended Article 500.

What were the charges based on? 

The charges against them followed coordinated raids by intelligence agents on their homes, and on the homes of nine other Christian families in Fardis, in November 2020. 

None of the Christians were arrested at that time, but many of their personal belongings were confiscated – including phones, laptops, Bibles, Christian literature and anything else to do with Christianity. 

The Christian items have not been returned.

Then in the space of two weeks in January and February 2021, a member of each family was summoned for interrogation and ordered to sign commitments to refrain from meeting together – either in person or online

As Article18 noted at the time, Iranian Christians are routinely asked during interrogations to sign commitments to refrain from gathering together in house-churches, but this was the first known example of intelligence officials demanding they sign a commitment to have no further social engagements together at all, including online.

And once again, it was a direct result of the newly amended Article 500, which prohibits “psychological manipulation” or so-called “mind control” by members of “sects” – in the “real or virtual sphere”, i.e. in person or online.

When the Christians refused to sign the commitments, they were threatened with long prison sentences and told it would be better for them if they left the country.

Then in May, Amin, Milad and Alireza were officially charged and each forced to submit bail of 250 million tomans (around $12,000) and told they must report weekly to the intelligence branch of Iran’s police force for the next six months.

The other Christians have also been threatened with imprisonment or other ramifications, such as employment restrictions.


The amendments to Article 500, and also 499, which relates to membership or organisation of “anti-security groups”, were ratified by Iran’s Guardian Council in March, having been signed into law by outgoing president Hassan Rouhani in February.

They were initially proposed in Iran’s parliament in May last year, but were twice rejected by the Guardian Council, which must approve all bills.

Ever since the amendments were proposed, rights groups including Article18 have warned they could be used to further clamp down on unrecognised religious minorities, including Christian converts, as the two articles were already routinely used in the prosecution of converts.

ARTICLE 19, an organisation dedicated to the protection of freedom of speech, called the changes to Article 500 in particular “a full-on attack on the right to freedom of religion and belief”.

And Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, labelled both amendments “a catastrophe” and “disservice to justice”, which will “bring more ambiguity to an already ambiguous set of charges … and decrease the chance that a judge may act in a more tolerant way towards house-church members, by providing greater scope within the law to bring charges on these vaguely-defined grounds”.

He added that the new amendments would be “celebrated by Iran’s intelligence agencies, who are always in the background in court cases against Christians, pressuring judges to impose the harshest possible sentence”.

Human rights lawyer Hossein Ahmadiniaz had previously warned that the amendments would “facilitate the repression and punishment of Christian converts and others belonging to unrecognised religious groups”.

Meanwhile, Hamid Gharagozloo from the International Organisation to Preserve Human Rights (IOPHR) cautioned: “By making it a crime to be part of a sect, and banning a group as a ‘sect’, it gives them an open hand to crush any form of uprising or dissatisfaction with the government… Any form of defiance will be labelled as a ‘sect’, and then it will be punishable by law.”

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