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Expropriation of bishop’s house completed 41 years after confiscation

Expropriation of bishop’s house completed 41 years after confiscation

The bishop’s house in Isfahan – once the seat of the Anglican Church in Iran – was confiscated by an Islamic Revolutionary Court judge on 6 November 1979, nine months after the revolution that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power at the head of a new Islamic Republic.

In all the years since, the house has stood empty and unused. Until now.

An old photo of the front of the house, courtesy of the Dehqani-Tafti family.

Over the past two years, the Mostazafan Foundation, an organisation directly ruled by the Supreme Leader and which purportedly works to support the poor – “mostazafan” literally translates as “oppressed” – has restored and now reopened the bishop’s house as an office to manage its many other properties.

(It should be noted that the Mostazafan Foundation is one of the richest organisations in the country – with an estimated value of over $3 billion dollars – and that its dealings are far from transparent.)

The plaque which once bore the title of the Bishop of Iran has been replaced with that of the foundation. Its logo is there for all to see.

On the left, the logo of the Mostazafan Foundation, which has replaced the ‘Bishop’s House’ sign on the right.

And this month, for Muharram, the Shia month of mourning, a banner has been erected in front of the house, declaring it house “a house of mourning for Hussein”, the murdered grandson of Muhammad, and sporting photographs of both Khomeini and his successor as Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

Why was it confiscated?

“Seldom in history can it have been that suspicion, misunderstanding, fanaticism and cupidity have struck an innocent group of people in the way they have struck the tiny Episcopal Church in Iran under the Islamic Revolution.”

These were the words of the first ethnic Persian Anglican bishop of Iran, Hassan Dehqani-Tafti, in his 1981 book, “The Hard Awakening”, as he reflected upon all that had happened in a bewildering first few months after the revolution.

The bishop left his homeland on 2 November 1979, just four days before the confiscation of his home, and a week after surviving an assassination attempt.

In the preceding nine months, everything that had been established over decades by missionaries had been turned upside down.

It began with the murder of the Anglican priest in Shiraz, Arastoo Sayyah, just eight days after Khomeini’s arrival in Tehran. 

Then followed a wave of confiscations of properties, beginning with the hospitals in Isfahan and Shiraz in June and July 1979 and culminating in the confiscation of the bishop’s house on 6 November.

The first assault on the bishop’s house – a large property in Isfahan within a compound that also hosted a church and Christian-run hospital, school and centre for the blind – came on 29 August 1979, as a group of men the bishop described as “ruffianly but obviously highly organised” burst into his home and ransacked it, before setting fire to many files and personal documents, including family photographs.

A map in the bishop’s book shows the entire compound, with bishop’s house and surrounding gardens highlighted.

Six weeks later, on 8 October, the bishop was arrested because he refused to hand over access to the church’s funds. Later that month, on 26 October, as he continued to refuse to give in to the demands, an attempt was made on his life as he lay in bed with his wife Margaret, such that, when a week later he left Iran for a conference, friends encouraged him not to return. And indeed, the bishop never did.

‘Insult to Jesus Christ’

On the confiscation order, dated 6 November 1979, an Islamic Revolutionary Court judge linked the confiscation to that of the hospital within the same compound five months earlier, saying that, according to unspecified “evidence”, it had been “built using the money belonging to the oppressed Muslim people to be used for the benefit of the imperialists” and “to poison people with their propaganda”.

The judge, who was later disgraced and executed, said the activities of those running the hospital had been “not only an insult to Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), but has also become a centre for anti-Islamic activities”. 

The hospital is still operational, under new Muslim management, and remains known as the “Christian Hospital”, though it has been officially renamed the “Jesus Son of Mary Hospital”.

“According to the evidence, and sufficient reasons,” the judge continued, without providing any details, “this hospital, before being a medical centre, was a place to lead ignorant Muslims astray, with all kinds of propaganda to deter us from the light of faith, and lead us to blasphemy and spying.”

Such fantastical claims were also made in the weeks and months after the bishop’s departure, as a slew of articles appeared in an Iranian magazine, accusing Anglican church members of things the bishop said read “more like James Bond thrillers”, including connections with the CIA and British Intelligence.

In the months that followed, the bishop’s only son, Bahram, was murdered and an attempt was also made on the life of the bishop’s former secretary, while other church leaders were rounded up and arrested.

‘I hope and believe we will see justice done’

Now, 41 years after the first attack on the bishop’s house, its gradual expropriation is finally complete. 

The only parts of the compound that still belong to the Anglican Church are a few apartments and a church (St Luke’s) suffocated of all possibility of growth, as new members are not permitted.

Bishop Dehqani-Tafti with his family.

“I hope and believe that once things are settled in our country, once the fever of unreasonableness cools down, we shall see justice done,” the bishop wrote in his book, but today that justice seems farther away than ever.

Yet, even so, the self-acknowledged “tiny” church the bishop left behind has experienced startling growth.

From just a few thousand Persian Christians at the start of the revolution, there are now as many as a million converts in Iran, according to new research.

But the faith they practice must be practised in secret, as they are not permitted to attend church services, and as a result they face the constant threat of arrest and imprisonment.

As the bishop wrote all those years ago, “the persecution of church members and the illegal confiscation of church properties started in the first week of the Revolution and still continues relentlessly”.

The same could have been written today.

Reacting to the news, the bishop’s daughter, Guli, who is now herself a bishop in the Church of England, told Article18: “I had a very happy childhood in the Bishop’s House, which was my home and where I spent my formative years. I have countless memories of so many people who passed through the doors – colleagues of my father, friends and many, many guests. 

Bishop Guli (the youngest) with her siblings in the garden of what was their family home.

“My parents were very hospitable. When we left and the house was confiscated, it still included all our belongings – other than those we had taken in one suitcase each. 

“In the last few months it was the scene of unhappy events such as a raid and the attack on my father’s life. 

“The house, which belonged to the church, was unlawfully confiscated and the injustice of that still stings. However, after 41 years of being vacant, I hope it will now at least be put to good use and that it will truly be used as a place from which those who are dispossessed and poor may be helped.”

Christian convert begins exile weeks after leaving prison

Christian convert begins exile weeks after leaving prison

Youhan Omidi with his wife Maryam and daughters Sara and Sandra.

Today, four weeks after leaving prison, Iranian Christian convert Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi journeyed south to begin his exile more than 1,000km from his home and family.

Youhan, who completed his two-year prison sentence on 18 August, left behind his wife, Maryam, and two teenage daughters, Sara and Sandra, in Rasht, northern Iran, to travel to Borazjan, in the opposite end of the country, to see what fate awaits him there.

Youhan was sentenced to two years’ internal exile as part of his initial 10-year prison sentence for membership of a house-church, reduced to two years in June.

His exile has also been reduced by three months – to 21 months – due to the extra time he spent in prison, on top of his two-year sentence.

Youhan is the second Iranian Christian convert to experience internal exile, following in the footsteps of Ebrahim Firouzi, who has already spent nearly a year in exile in southeastern Iran and has another two years ahead of him.

But Youhan was circumspect about his situation, telling a close friend: “I trust God in this, as I did for my imprisonment.

“Many people, even those around me, consider it a time wasted in your life. But seeing ourselves as a piece of the puzzle in the greater image God is creating, I gladly embrace this opportunity to go through this exile. My experience may help other Christians who will face similar exile sentences in the future.”

It was initially believed that Youhan’s term in exile may have been quashed when his sentence was reduced. However, upon leaving prison Youhan was told to report back in two weeks, and this was later confirmed to him by his lawyer.

So, just weeks after an emotional reunion with his family, Youhan sets off again into the unknown.

He does not yet know what he will do in Borazjan, nor whether it would be a suitable place to move his wife and daughters – who are still at school – as southern Iran has a much harsher environment and climate than that of the family’s home near the Caspian Sea.

Youhan has travelled to Borazjan by bus, at his own expense, and will likewise have to cover his own life expenses henceforth, as he seeks to create a new life for himself in a foreign city far from home.

Christian converts leave Iran, facing combined 35 years in prison

Christian converts leave Iran, facing combined 35 years in prison

Left to right: Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, Amin Afshar-Naderi, and Hadi Asgari.

Three Iranian Christian converts whose appeals against a combined 35 years in prison were recently rejected want to let their supporters know they are safe and well outside the country.

The cases against Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, Hadi Asgari and Amin Afshar-Naderi were tied up with those against the Iranian-Assyrian pastor Victor-Bet Tamraz and his wife Shamiram Issavi, whose appeals were also rejected.

Like Victor and Shamiram, the three converts are now safely outside Iran and told Article18 they wished to let everyone know they are OK, albeit still suffering with the scars of a years-long battle in the courts only because of their membership of a house-church.

Amin, who was given the stiffest sentence – of 15 years – told Article18 he had lived “six years of uncertainty” since his arrest in December 2014 at Victor and Shamiram’s home, as they celebrated Christmas together.

He said the pressure he had been placed under in the years since had left him with a nervous tic, for which he has been prescribed medication.

“I miss my country, Iran, very much,” he said. “Before prison, I had travelled to foreign countries many times, but I never decided to emigrate. Today, I am very sad that I have been forced to seek refuge in another country, no matter how much better the conditions may be there.”

Kavian said he decided to flee after the ramifications of his 10-year sentence started to become apparent.

“I had no idea that when you have a criminal record that it means you don’t have a work permit, you can’t get an official job, and you have no idea how long you’ll have to remain in this state of uncertainty,” he said.

“It took two years [after my arrest] in all before they summoned me for my last defence, when they made other serious accusations against me, which made my case even more severe. 

“Then, finally, the following year, they sentenced me to the 10 years in prison, and the delay to the process puts huge psychological pressure on you. Of course we appealed the verdict, but, finally, after another three years, when no official trials took place, the appeal court approved the verdict – very strangely without a face-to-face hearing that my lawyer could have attended.”

Kavian was recently summoned to begin his sentence, but has no intention to do so now that he is safely outside the country.

Neither Amin, nor Hadi have yet received any official summons.

Amin told Article18: “I say with tears that, according to the teachings of the Bible, we tried to be good citizens in Iran and not to act against the law, but the government inflicted serious injuries upon us with an iron fist and such cruelty.

“But we pray for the rulers, for those who harassed us, insulted and slandered us, humiliated and ridiculed us, tortured and destroyed us, harmed us and our families, confiscated our property. We pray for them and forgive them.”

Article18 will soon publish video interviews with all three of the converts, as well as Victor and Shamiram.

Joseph Shahbazian released on bail after 54 days

Joseph Shahbazian released on bail after 54 days

Iranian-Armenian Christian Joseph Shahbazian has been released on bail after nearly two months in detention.

The 56-year-old was one of dozens of Christians arrested by Revolutionary Guards in a coordinated operation targeting homes and house-churches in Tehran, Karaj and Malayer on 30 June and 1 July.

Last week Joseph’s family were finally able to see him for the first time since his arrest, but they remained unable to secure his bail due to the exorbitant amount demanded.

However, on Saturday their pleas for a reduction were finally answered, and Joseph was released after his family submitted property deeds worth 2 billion tomans (around $100,000). 

This amount, though still the highest ever submitted for a Christian prisoner of conscience, was 1 billion tomans less than the 3 billion previously demanded, which the family had been unable to raise.

In the days after Joseph’s arrest, his family were initially told the figure was the comparatively small sum of 300 million tomans (around $10,000), but when they arrived at the court with the amount in cash, they were told they must return with ten times as much.

Joseph was one of only two Christians still detained following the 30 June and 1 July raids, during which at least 35 Christians were either interrogated or arrested.

It remains unclear whether the other long-term detainee, a Christian woman convert named Malihe Nazari, 46, remains in prison, or whether her bail was also reduced.

There have been concerns for Malihe’s health following a coronavirus outbreak at the Qarchak Women’s Prison where she is believed to have been detained.

Iranian-Armenian Christian prisoner’s family see him for first time in seven weeks

Iranian-Armenian Christian prisoner’s family see him for first time in seven weeks

The wife and son of an Iranian-Armenian Christian who remains in detention seven weeks after his arrest were able to visit him for the first time on Tuesday.

Joseph Shahbazian was said to be in good health, though unshaven and therefore scruffier than usual in appearance.

It remains unclear where the 56-year-old is being held, as he was driven, blindfolded, to the courthouse where they met and has been blindfolded every time he has been let out of his cell, which he shares with one other prisoner.

Joseph remains in prison as his family have not yet been able to raise the 3 billion tomans (around $150,000) stipulated for his bail – the highest bail amount ever set for an Iranian Christian prisoner of conscience.

They have raised 2.5 billion tomans, which they have asked the prison authorities to accept. However, they are yet to receive a judge’s decision.

Joseph was arrested on the evening of 30 June, as part of a coordinated operation targeting the homes and house-churches of dozens of Christians in Tehran, Karaj and Malayer on 30 June and 1 July.

Of the at least 35 Christians who were either interrogated or arrested, only Joseph and Malihe Nazari, a 46-year-old woman convert, remain detained.

Malihe is believed to have been transferred to the notorious Qarchak women’s prison, where there are fears for her health given an outbreak of the coronavirus there and in other overcrowded prisons within Iran.

Last week Article18 reported an outbreak at Evin Prison, where Christian convert Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh was among 12 prisoners to test positive for Covid-19. 

A further three converts – Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Yousef Nadarkhani and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee – were not tested but showed symptoms of the virus, including a prolonged fever.

Saheb and Yousef’s health has reportedly since improved, though Nasser remains unwell and there is no news on Yasser.

Earlier this week, another Christian convert incarcerated in the same prison ward, Mohammadreza (Youhan) Omidi, was released after two years.

However, he was informed he must report back to the prison authorities within 15 days to begin his exile in the southwestern city of Borazjan.

Youhan has a wife and two teenage daughters and it is as yet unclear whether they would be permitted to join him in exile.

Iranian-Assyrian Christians flee but vow to continue legal battle

Iranian-Assyrian Christians flee but vow to continue legal battle

Article18 can now confirm that Iranian-Assyrian Christians Victor Bet-Tamraz and Shamiram Issavi fled Iran on Saturday, hours before Shamiram was due to begin her five-year prison sentence.

The couple’s daughter, Dabrina, told Article18 that while she does not wish to disclose where they are, her parents are “safe and well” and determined to continue their legal battle against their combined 15-year prison sentence.

“We continue to pray and hope for their sentences to be dropped,” she said. “We pray for justice both for my parents and for all the believers suffering in prisons.”

A copy of Shamiram’s summons, dated 11 August 2020, telling her she has five days to report to the Shahid Moghadas Court to begin her sentence or otherwise face arrest.

As Article18 reported on Sunday, Shamiram received an official summons last Tuesday, 11 August, to present herself at Tehran’s Shahid Moghadas Court, inside Evin Prison, within five days to begin her sentence, or face arrest.

Three weeks earlier, on 19 July, Victor had received a telephone call from his lawyer, telling him that his three-year-long appeal against his 10-year prison sentence had failed.

Therefore, facing prison, the couple, who are both in their mid-sixties, decided with heavy hearts to leave their homeland and continue their legal battle abroad.

Dabrina added that they are determined to return to Iran if they can overturn the unjust prison sentences against them.

Background

It was during a Christmas celebration, way back in 2014, that the couple’s ordeal began.

Victor was arrested, alongside two Christian converts, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, and held in solitary confinement for 65 days.

The converts were eventually sentenced alongside their pastor and a third convert, Hadi Asgari, in July 2017. 

Left to right: Victor Bet-Tamraz, Shamiram Issavi, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, Amin Afshar-Naderi, and Hadi Asgari.

Kavian and Hadi were also given 10 years in prison; Amin was sentenced to 15. 

Article18 can now confirm that the three converts have also been notified by their lawyers that their appeals have been rejected.

Shamiram received her prison sentence six months after her husband and the three converts, in January 2018. 

But it took another two and half years of numerous scheduled and postponed hearings until the appeals court finally ruled to reject the five Christians’ appeals.

Christian convert released after two years in prison

Christian convert released after two years in prison

Iranian Christian convert Mohammadreza (Youhan) Omidi has been released from prison after completing his reduced two-year sentence for “acting against national security by organising house-churches and promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity”.

Youhan, who is 47 years old, was released from Tehran’s Evin Prison at lunchtime today, and will tomorrow travel home to the northern city of Rasht to be reunited with his wife Maryam and teenage daughters Sara and Sandra.

Youhan was initially sentenced to 10 years in prison, but his sentence was reduced to two years at a retrial in June.

But although it was initially believed Youhan’s additional two-year sentence of internal exile in the southwestern city of Borazjan had been quashed, before he left prison he was told to report back in 15 days to receive his paperwork and begin his exile.

Youhan with his wife Maryam and teenage daughters Sara and Sandra.

It is not yet certain whether what he was told was the truth or just bluster, nor is it clear whether his wife and daughters would be permitted to join him in exile.

Last month, having completed his two years in prison, there was also some confusion about whether his sentence had in fact been reduced only to six years, as was the case for his friends Yousef Nadarkhani and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee.

Then, after calls for his release, amidst a coronavirus outbreak at the prison ward where he was incarcerated, Youhan was finally released at around 1.30pm local time.

Article18’s advocacy director gave this reaction:  “Article18 welcomes the news of Youhan’s release, although we believe he was incarcerated unjustly and it is concerning to hear he has been told he must now endure two years’ exile.

“We hope also to see the release of other prisoners of conscience who are imprisoned only for exercising their right to peaceful religious activities; we are especially concerned for those who are being kept in overcrowded, and now coronavirus-infested prisons.”

Background

Youhan was arrested alongside Yousef, Saheb, Yousef’s wife and fellow Christian convert Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh in May 2016.

The four men were charged with “acting against national security by organising house-churches and promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity” and sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2017.

A year later, after failing with their appeals, they were violently arrested at their homes, rather than being summoned to present themselves at the prison, as is the usual protocol.

In October 2019, Yousef, Saheb and Youhan’s petitions for retrials were accepted, and in June 2020 their sentences were reduced.

Yasser, who was last week one of 12 prisoners in Ward 8 of Evin Prison to test positive for Covid-19, was not part of the retrial bid.


This article has been amended to include the latest details regarding Youhan’s additional sentence of two years in internal exile.

Iranian-Assyrian Christian couple lose appeals against combined 15 years in prison

Iranian-Assyrian Christian couple lose appeals against combined 15 years in prison

An Iranian-Assyrian couple sentenced to a combined 15 years in prison for teaching Muslim converts about Christianity have finally been informed that their longstanding appeals have failed.

It’s been more than three years since Victor Bet-Tamraz was sentenced to 10 years in prison, in July 2017, and over two and a half years since his wife, Shamiram, was given a five-year sentence, in January 2018.

Their daughter, Dabrina, who now lives in Switzerland, has spoken repeatedly of her fears for her parents’ safety, should they be forced to endure time behind bars, especially given recent reports of a coronavirus outbreak in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Victor will celebrate his 66th birthday next month, and Shamiram turns 65 in December.

Since their sentencing, the couple have been summoned to countless appeal hearings, only for them to be cancelled for a variety of reasons including failure to officially summon every defendant, the court being “too crowded”, and the assigning of a new judge to the case.

Their last scheduled appeal hearing, on 1 June, was cancelled without excuse.

Another seven weeks of uncertainty passed until, finally, on 19 July, Victor received a telephone call from his lawyer, informing him that his appeal had been rejected and no further hearing would take place.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the same was true in Shamiram’s case, though the couple feared it would be, given that their cases had been officially merged by the new judge, Ahmad Zargar, in February 2019.

Finally, on Tuesday, 11 August, their worst fears were confirmed as Shamiram was summoned to Evin to begin her sentence.

She has until today, Sunday 16 August, to turn herself in.

How did it come to this?

It was during a Christmas celebration, way back in 2014, that the couple’s ordeal began.

Victor was arrested, alongside two Christian converts, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, and held in solitary confinement for 65 days.

The converts were eventually sentenced alongside their pastor and a third convert, Hadi Asgari, in July 2017. Kavian and Hadi were also given 10 years in prison; Amin was sentenced to 15.

It remains unclear whether they, too, will soon be summoned to prison, as the Christians are using different lawyers – one of whom, Amirsalar Davoudi, is currently in prison himself and was recently diagnosed with Covid-19 – and only Victor’s has received any word from the prison authorities.

Indeed, Shamiram didn’t even know for sure that her sentence had been upheld until she received the summons on Tuesday.

The case against the five Christians has dragged on for so long now, and been the subject of intense international scrutiny including a campaign by Amnesty International and pleas for clemency by, among others, US Vice President Mike Pence.

But, once again, and in spite of its repeated claims that “no-one is put in prison only for his or her beliefs in Iran” – indeed, the constitution stipulates that “no-one should be molested or taken to task for simply holding a certain belief” – the Iranian regime continues to persecute and prosecute Christians only for meeting together to worship.

This is just the latest cruel – and unjustifiable – example.

Concerns for Christians after coronavirus outbreak at Evin Prison

Concerns for Christians after coronavirus outbreak at Evin Prison

Left to right: Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee, Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi, and Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh.

There are concerns over the health of four Christian prisoners of conscience after one of them tested positive for Covid-19 while the three others are all displaying symptoms.

Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh was one of 12 prisoners in Ward 8 of Tehran’s Evin Prison to test positive during a random test of 17 of the ward’s approximately 60 prisoners yesterday.

Fellow Christian prisoners of conscience Yousef Nadarkhani, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee and Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh were not among those tested, but they are all displaying symptoms.

Nasser’s friends and family are particularly concerned about him, as he recently turned 59 years old and remains in his crowded cell despite being laid low with fever for nearly a week. The only medical assistance he has received is a few painkillers.

The fifth Christian prisoner in Ward 8, Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi, has so far shown no symptoms, though he remains in the ward despite already serving the entirety of his recently reduced sentence. 

A further 10 Christian prisoners of conscience are being held in other wards of the notorious prison, though as yet there are no reports that any of them are unwell, although there are unconfirmed reports of infections and even a death in another Evin ward.

The approximately 60 prisoners in Ward 8 sleep on bunk beds in rooms containing around 12-15 prisoners each, but all the prisoners mingle together; there are no social distancing rules. Indeed, when the ward is overcrowded, some prisoners are forced to sleep on the floor.

Yesterday, over two dozen Ward 8 prisoners staged a sit-in to draw attention to the growing crisis there, inadequate medical care and insufficient protection measures.

At the height of the pandemic in March, Iran released some 100,000 prisoners – among them six Christians – amidst fears that its overcrowded prisons could provide a hotbed for the virus to spread.

But just five months on, the prisons are overcrowded again, and there are now more Christian prisoners of conscience than before the pandemic.

Prison sentences for Rasht converts

Prison sentences for Rasht converts

Ramin Hassanpour and his wife Kathrin Sajadpour, and Moslem Rahimi.

Four Iranian Christian converts have received prison sentences of between two and five years for “acting against national security” by belonging to a house-church and “spreading Zionist Christianity”. 

Ramin Hassanpour was given a five-year sentence, Hadi (Moslem) Rahimi four years, while there were two-year sentences for Sakine (Mehri) Behjati and Ramin’s wife Saeede (Kathrin) Sajadpour.

The sentences were pronounced on Saturday, 1 August.

The four Christians were first arrested in February, though initially Mehri’s identity was not made public.

In May, they spent a week in Lakan Prison in Rasht, having been unable to afford the 500 million toman bail ($30,000) set for them after the charges against them were read out at Branch 10 of the Revolutionary Court in Rasht.

They were eventually released on a reduced bail of 200 million tomans ($11,500).

Ramin and Kathrin have two sons – one of whom is 16 years old and was forced to stay at home by himself while they were in prison, and the other just seven and therefore went to stay with his grandfather.

They are part of the Rasht branch of the “Church of Iran”, a non-Trinitarian group, which has been especially targeted by the Iranian authorities.

Reacting to the news, CSW’s chief executive Mervyn Thomas called it “the latest development in a relentless crackdown on specific religious groups in Iran”.