Five of the nine Christian converts arrested earlier this year in Rasht had their bail increased tenfold at a court hearing in Tehran on Wednesday, after insisting upon being defended by their own lawyer.
The five men – Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoost, Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh and Mehdi Khatibi – wanted Moshgani Farahani to defend them, but Judge Mohammed Moghisheh, who has earned the nickname the “Judge of Death” for his harsh treatment of prisoners of conscience, rejected their choice and demanded they were defended by a lawyer of the court’s choosing.
When they refused, Judge Moghisheh increased their bail amount to the equivalent of $130,000 each, and, being unable and unprepared to pay such an amount, they were transferred to Ward 4 of Tehran’s Evin Prison.
The other four Christians – Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafada – decided to defend themselves and were therefore released on their pre-existing bail (the equivalent of $13,000 each) until their next hearing on Sunday.
The nine Christians were arrested during raids on their homes and house-churches in January and February.
Seven of them – all except Abdolreza and Shahrooz – were released on bail in March, after posting the equivalent of $13,000 each. Abdolreza and Shahrooz were detained.
All nine were charged with “acting against national security” and “promoting Zionist Christianity”.
The nine are members of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran”, the denomination of the imprisoned pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and his three church members, Saheb (Zaman) Fadaee, Mohammad Ali Mosayebzadeh, and Mohammad Reza Omidi, who are all serving ten-year prison sentences.
Yesterday, the vice-chair of the United States International Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Nadine Maenza, called for Pastor Yousef’s immediate release, saying: “The Iranian government has vilified and deprived the basic rights of Pastor Nadarkhani and of many other Iranians simply for exercising their freedom of belief. This must stop. I call on the government of Iran to live up to its commitments to its citizens under international law.”
It was a year ago this week that plainclothes security forces violently arrested Pastor Yousef and his fellow church members, tasering him and his son, and taking them away to serve sentences also on charges of “acting against national security” and “promoting Zionist Christianity”.