Christians summoned to answer charges of ‘propaganda against the Islamic Republic’

Christians summoned to answer charges of ‘propaganda against the Islamic Republic’

Left to right: Alireza Varak-Shah, Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, and Esmaeil Narimanpour. (MEC)

Eight Christian converts in the southwestern city of Dezful have been summoned to answer charges of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

The eight Christians – Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Alireza Roshanaei Zadeh, Masoud Nabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, and Mohsen Saadati Zadeh – were summoned on Tuesday, 20 July, to appear at the 4th branch of the prosecutor’s office of the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Dezful within five days.

Four of the men – Hojjat, Esmaeil, Davoud, and Alireza Varak-Shah – were arrested in April and released two days later, after signing statements pledging to appear when summoned.

Several other Christians were also interrogated at that time and ordered to sign commitments to refrain from further Christian activities, while some of the Christians, including Esmaeil, were beaten.

Davoud has previously been arrested for his Christian activities – back in October 2017, when he was detained for a month.

The charges against the eight men fall under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, one of two articles controversially amended earlier this year. 

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”.

It is not yet clear whether the charges against the eight Christians will contain the new phrasing of Article 500, but this was the case when three Christian converts in Karaj were given the maximum sentences of five years in prison last month for “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam”.

Dezful is part of Khuzestan province, where protests have erupted in recent days over a water shortage, and there have been reports of a heavy-handed response to protesters.

One local told The New York Times: “We kept shouting, ‘We want water, just water, we don’t have water!’ They answered us with violence and bullets.”