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Ebrahim Firouzi sent into exile 1,000 miles from home

Ebrahim Firouzi sent into exile 1,000 miles from home

Two weeks after returning home from six years in prison, Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi is on his way to the remote city of Sarbaz, 1,000 miles from his home, to begin two years of internal exile.

Ebrahim, who will be 33 next month, left his home in Robat Karim, near Tehran, early this morning and will arrive in Sarbaz tomorrow lunchtime, having been forced to travel by bus at his own expense.

He is the first Iranian Christian to endure such a punishment, though others such as Yousef Nadarkhani and Mohammad Reza Omidi – like Ebrahim, converts to Christianity – also face exile at the end of their sentences.

At the time of Ebrahim’s initial sentencing, the judge added two years of exile to the maximum sentence for the charges he faced because he showed no remorse for his actions – meeting together with other Christians to pray and read the Bible, for which he was charged with “gathering and collusion” and “actions against national security”.

Before his release on 26 October, Ebrahim had not seen his home since August 2013. Now he faces another two years away, during which time he will not be allowed to leave Sarbaz unless granted a temporary furlough – something he was never granted during his time in prison.

Ebrahim is allowed to find work, but nothing is provided for him, including accommodation, so he will have to stay in a hotel while looking for work.

Before his release from prison, Ebrahim was forced to submit property deeds, which will remain with the court during his time in exile, in case he chooses to run away.

During his two weeks at home, Ebrahim was able to visit the grave of his mother, Kobra Kamrani, who passed away while he was in prison. Ebrahim had pleaded for a temporary leave of absence to see his dying mother in her last weeks, but this was rejected and he was also prevented from attending her funeral.

A source close to Ebrahim told Article18 he had “mixed emotions” about his exile. 

“So long as the church is not free [to worship freely with other believers], Ebrahim believes there is no difference between home or elsewhere,” the source said. “He said, ‘God was in control when I went to prison, and I am sure he will still be in control in my exile. He will show me His ways in His own time.’”

Background

Ebrahim was first arrested in 2011 as part of a wave of arrests of Christian converts from all over Iran.

He was initially sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment on charges of “propaganda against the regime, insulting Islamic sacraments and acting against national security”.

Ebrahim was re-arrested in March 2013 and charged with “establishing and managing a website about Christianity, receiving and distributing Bibles, cooperating with student activists, promoting Christian Zionism, and acting against national security”. 

In July 2013, he was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment to be followed by two years’ exile.

On 21 August 2013, prior to commencing his sentence, Ebrahim was re-arrested in Karaj and returned to Tehran’s Evin Prison. Six weeks later he was relocated to Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj.

He was due to be released in January 2015, but he was instead detained and re-tried on new charges of “gathering and collusion”, as well as “actions against national security”.

In April 2015 he was sentenced to five years in prison. His appeal was eventually heard 18 months later, in December 2016, when the sentence was upheld.

Ebrahim went on hunger strike in July 2017 after several fellow converts were given ten-year prison sentences.

In an open letter, he wrote that he was protesting against “the mistreatment of new Christian believers and converts by the judicial authorities, refusing Christian prisoners access to Christian literature, and issuing unjust and hefty verdicts and sentences against new Christian believers and converts”.

Christian convert’s bail increased tenfold

Christian convert’s bail increased tenfold

A 65-year-old convert to Christianity had his bail increased tenfold at a court hearing in Shiraz last week.

Ismaeil Maghrebinejad was charged with “propaganda against the state and insulting the sacred Iranian establishment” following his arrest at his home on 25 January. 

At the hearing on 22 October at Enghelab Court in Shiraz, the judge asked him two questions: whether he was an apostate; and whether he had insulted Islam.

He denied both, saying that he had never insulted Islam and that different ayatollahs had different opinions over the question of apostasy.

In response, the judge decreed that his bail would be increased from 10 million to 100 million tomans (around $9,000).

When Ismaeil said he had no way of paying such an amount, the judge said a friend could act as a guarantor. Two of Ismaeil’s friends then provided payslips to the court as proof that they could cover the amount if required. 

Yesterday morning, Ismaeil was summoned to the court, but the hearing was later postponed to the morning of Saturday, 2 November.

Ismaeil with daughter Mahsa and son-in-law Nathan

As Article18 reported in August, Ismaeil’s daughter, Mahsa, who is now living in the United States, believes her family and that of her husband, Vahid Roufegarbashi, are being targeted because of the couple’s continued role as pastors ministering to Christians in Iran via the Internet. 

Vahid, who prefers to be known as Nathan, told Article18 that his parents continue to be visited regularly by Iranian police officers, who say both that they are looking for Nathan and also that they know he is living in America. The last such visit took place on 28 October.

Nathan says his parents continue to be targeted even though the court seized all of his $18,000 bail after he fled the country following his arrest in July 2011 for handing out Christian literature. 

Nathan had also been warned that the Tehran branch of the Ministry of Intelligence wanted to interrogate him at the city’s notorious Evin Prison about his Internet ministry to other Christians in Iran. He was later sentenced, in absentia, to one year in prison.

Ebrahim Firouzi returns home from prison but now faces exile

Ebrahim Firouzi returns home from prison but now faces exile

Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi has returned home after six years in prison for his religious activities, but he now faces two years’ exile in remote Sistan and Baluchestan province.

Ebrahim, 32, has requested a few weeks at home first, though there is no guarantee it will be granted. 

During his six years in prison, Ebrahim was not given a day’s leave. He was not even permitted to visit his mother in the weeks before she died, in December 2018, despite her plea, nor to attend her funeral.

If, as expected, Ebrahim’s exile is enforced, he will become the first Christian to endure such a punishment, though others such as Yousef Nadarkhani and Mohammad Reza Omidi – also converts to Christianity – are facing years in exile at the end of their sentences.

Ebrahim was first arrested in 2011 as part of a wave of arrests during which a number of Christian converts from all over Iran were detained. 

Ebrahim was initially sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment on charges of “propaganda against the regime, insulting Islamic sacraments and acting against national security”.

He was re-arrested in March 2013 and charged with “establishing and managing a website about Christianity, receiving and distributing Bibles, cooperating with student activists, promoting Christian Zionism, and acting against national security”. 

In July 2013, he was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment to be followed by two years’ exile in Sarbaz, near the Pakistan border in the southeast – far away from his home in Robat Karim, near Tehran.

On 21 August 2013, prior to commencing his sentence, Ebrahim was re-arrested in Karaj and returned to Tehran’s Evin Prison. Six weeks later he was relocated to Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj.

He was due to be released in January 2015, but he was instead detained and re-tried on new charges of “gathering and collusion”, as well as “actions against national security”.

In April 2015 he was sentenced to five years in prison. His appeal was eventually heard 18 months later, in December 2016, but the sentence was upheld.

Ebrahim went on hunger strike in July 2017 after several fellow converts were given ten-year prison sentences.

In an open letter, he wrote: “Following the mistreatment of new Christian believers and converts by the judicial authorities, refusing Christian prisoners access to Christian literature, and issuing unjust and hefty verdicts and sentences against new Christian believers and converts to the point that in the recent months tens of Christians have been sentenced to long years of imprisonment, I hereby announce going on hunger strike, commencing on 17 July 2017, for a period of 10 days, in support of the rights of fellow Christians.”

Nine Christian converts given five-year sentences

Nine Christian converts given five-year sentences

Clockwise from top-left: Mohammed Vafada, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour,
Behnam Akhlaghi, Mehdi Khatibi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Shahrooz Eslamdoost and Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad.
(Middle East Concern)

Nine converts to Christianity have been sentenced to five years each in prison for “acting against national security”.

The nine men – Abdolreza Ali HaghnejadShahrooz EslamdoostBehnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi KhatibiKhalil Dehghanpour, Hossein KadivarKamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafada – are all members of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran” in the northern city of Rasht.

The verdict was pronounced on 13 October after a final hearing on 23 September. All nine are appealing.

The 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.

In July, five of the men –  Abdolreza Ali HaghnejadShahrooz EslamdoostBehnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh and Mehdi Khatibi  – had their bail increased tenfold after insisting upon being defended by their own lawyer. 

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, the judge 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 – Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein KadivarKamal 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, when the judge accused them of promoting Zionism and said the Bible had been falsified.

The nine men are all members of the same church as imprisoned pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and fellow converts Saheb (Zaman) Fadaee, Mohammad Ali Mosayebzadeh and Mohammad Reza Omidi, who are all serving ten-year prison sentences.

Pastor Yousef recently ended a three-week-long hunger strike, which he had undertaken to protest against the denial of education to his two sons – because, as Christians, they refused to study Islamic Studies and the Quran.

Members of recognised religious minorities – including Christians, as well as Jews and Zoroastrians – are ordinarily exempt from classes in Islamic Studies and the Quran, but children of converts to Christianity, such as Yousef’s, are not afforded this right as they are still considered Muslims.

Yousef Nadarkhani ends hunger strike after 21 days

Yousef Nadarkhani ends hunger strike after 21 days

Iranian Christian prisoner Yousef Nadarkhani yesterday brought an end to his 21-day hunger strike.

Yousef, who is serving a ten-year sentence for his Christian activities, was protesting against his 15-year-old son Youeil being barred from school because he refused to take Islamic classes, while his elder son, Danial, 17, was only readmitted to school as a “guest”. 

There has been no change in his children’s circumstances, but Yousef was given reassurances by the prison authorities that the matter would be looked into.

Both of Yousef’s children have been denied certificates showing their completion of the past two academic years – as a result of their refusal to take Islamic classes.

Members of recognised religious minorities – including Christians, as well as Jews and Zoroastrians – are ordinarily exempt from classes in Islamic Studies and the Quran, but children of converts to Christianity, such as Yousef’s, are not afforded this right as they are still considered Muslims.

Yousef and his wife Tina – both converts from Muslim backgrounds – have been fighting for the rights of their boys to identify as Christians for the past decade.

Indeed, it was this very issue that led to Yousef’s first arrest, which resulted in his 2010 death sentence for apostasy.

And although that conviction was quashed in 2012, following international outcry, Yousef still had to serve three years in prison for evangelising and was then re-arrested in 2016 on the new charges for which he is now back in Tehran’s Evin Prison, in the second year of his ten-year sentence for forming a “house church” and “promoting Zionist Christianity”.

Before he was taken back to prison in July 2018, Yousef tried again to ensure his sons were recognised as Christians, but the matter is still to be resolved after local authorities in Gilan Province, where the Nadarkhanis live, appealed against the higher education authority, which had ruled in the family’s favour.

As a result, at the end of the past two academic years, Yousef and Tina’s sons were not provided with certificates to show they completed their studies, because they failed to sit exams in Islamic Studies and the Quran.

Youeil was due to begin 10th grade this year, but he has yet to receive a certificate to show he completed 8th grade, let alone 9th. Meanwhile, Danial, who was due to begin 12th grade, has not received a certificate since completing 9th grade.

Last year, the boys were accepted as “guests” – and also fully paying students – pending the ruling in the family’s case. But this year, although Danial was accepted again as a fully paying “guest”, Youeil was told that, having failed to attain his certificate for the previous academic year, he could not return to school.

Yousef Nadarkhani with his two sons, Danial (right) and Youeil, before his incarceration.

In a letter to the prison authorities, Yousef said his decision to go on hunger strike was “motivated by the necessity to defend my children as members of the Christian minority who are violated by discriminatory measures taken at the initiative of officials of the Ministries of Information and National Education”. 

“This is the cry of a father, unjustly imprisoned,” he said, adding that it was “now 11 years that I have been fighting on legal grounds to assert their rights”. 

Yousef appealed to the Minister of National Education and said he hoped the minister would “heed this appeal and that he will do, in accordance with the law, what is necessary to put an end to the injustices that my family are suffering as Christians”.

Background 

A fatwa by Iran’s Supreme Leader at the time of Yousef’s initial apostasy seemed to pave the way for children of converts to be recognised as Christians. 

It stated: “The [convert] himself may be considered an apostate, but if they married after the apostasy, according to their own new religious principles, their children will not be considered apostates.”

But it is believed that the Ministry of Intelligence is pressurising the higher education authorities not to set such a precedent by ruling in the Nadarkhanis’ favour.

Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, said this highlights the power of the Ministry of Intelligence in Iran – that they would even go so far as to contradict a ruling by the Supreme Leader, their commanding officer.

The local education authorities in Gilan, in their appeal against the ruling of the higher education authorities, said that while Yousef may have been recognised as a Christian, the same cannot be said of his wife, Tina.

Yousef and his wife object to this view, saying that Tina was never a practising Muslim and is willing to testify to this in court, and also to provide a copy of Youeil’s birth certificate, which shows that he was registered as a Christian.

They also object to being regularly referred to as kafirs (infidels) in the appeal launched by Gilan’s education authority, saying that they ought to instead be considered, like other Christians, as “people of the book” (the Bible).

Article18 calls for Iran to provide Danial and Youeil, and all children of converts, the opportunity to be educated as Christians, as is their right under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified and which provides parents with the right to pass on their own religious teachings to their children, and denies authorities the right to intervene.

Mr. Borji used the Nadarkhani family’s story in his testimony to the recent review of the persecution of Christians worldwide, commissioned by the UK government.

‘I was arrested for the crime of believing in Jesus’ – Rokhsareh Ghanbari

‘I was arrested for the crime of believing in Jesus’ – Rokhsareh Ghanbari

Sixty-one-year-old Christian convert Rokhsareh Ghanbari presented herself at Shahid Kachooei Prison in her home city of Karaj yesterday to begin a one-year jail sentence. 

Rokhsareh, who prefers to be known as Mahrokh, recorded a short video message before going to prison, in which she said she had been arrested by agents from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence “for the crime of believing in Jesus Christ”.

She added: “I hope the persecution and imprisonment I endure glorify the name of Jesus Christ.”

Mahrokh was sentenced in July at a Revolutionary Court in Karaj, on charges of “propaganda against the system”.

Her case gained international attention when the US Vice President, Mike Pence, named her in a series of tweets about Iran’s failure to provide religious freedom to its citizens.

Mr. Pence said he was “appalled” that Mahrokh was to be jailed “for exercising her freedom to worship”.

He added that the “persecution” of people like Mahrokh and Assyrian-Iranian pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, who is facing ten years in jail, were “an affront to religious freedom”.

During her trial, the judge was “very rude” and “tried to humiliate Mahrokh after she disagreed with him”, reported Middle East Concern.

Mahrokh was one of five female converts arrested just before Christmas during a raid on her home in Karaj. The names of the other four women have not been made public.

The officers confiscated several of Mahrokh’s belongings, including her mobile phone, Bibles and other Christian materials during the raid.

She was then detained and interrogated from morning until evening for ten days, before being released on a bail of 30 million tomans (around $2,500).

Middle East Concern said her mistreatment had caused “distress to family and friends, who thought she would have been shown greater respect on account of her age”.

In January, Mahrokh was forced to visit an Islamic cleric to receive religious “instruction” and be offered the chance to revert to Islam.

Amin Khaki remains in prison as friends go home

Amin Khaki remains in prison as friends go home

Left to right: Yaghoob Nateghi, Milad Goodarzi, Amin Khaki, Alireza Nourmohammadi and Shahebedin Shahi.

Four Christian converts have completed their jail sentences and returned home. A fifth member of the group remains in prison.

Milad Goodarzi, Yaghoob Nateghi, Shahebedin Shahi and Alireza Nourmohammadi left the central detention centre in Karaj on Tuesday after completing their four-month sentences, including time in detention following arrest.

But their friend and fellow convert, Amin Khaki, still has nearly a year left to go of his longer sentence.

The five men – all members of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran” – were arrested during raids on their homes and workplaces in December 2017.

They were released in early 2018 after each posting bail of 30 million tomans (around $7,000).

In March this year, Milad, Yaghoob, Shahebedin and Alireza were sentenced to four months in prison; Amin, who had already spent a year in prison for his religious activities, was given an additional ten months – so 14 months in total – because of his prior conviction, which also means he is unlikely to be offered early release.

The charges against the five men were the same: “propaganda against the state”.

After failing with their appeals in June, the men submitted themselves to the central detention centre in Karaj on 6 July. Manoto News broadcast footage of the Christians – four of whom have young children – waving goodbye to their loved ones as they went to prison.

Now, three months on, four have returned home, but the waiting goes on for Amin.

Yousef Nadarkhani goes on hunger strike as son barred from school

Yousef Nadarkhani goes on hunger strike as son barred from school

Yousef Nadarkhani with his two sons, Danial (right) and Youeil, before his incarceration.

Christian prisoner Yousef Nadarkhani has gone on hunger strike to protest against his son being barred from school because he refused to take Islamic classes.

Youeil, 15, was due to recommence studies on Monday, but told he could not return to school as he had not yet been certified to have completed the previous grade – because he did not complete his Islamic education. Youeil’s older brother, Danial, 17, was accepted as a “guest” to his school, but has not received a certificate showing his completion of an academic year since leaving 9th grade.

Yousef and his wife Tina – both converts to Christianity – have been fighting for the rights of their boys to identify as Christians for the past decade, and therefore to be exempt from Islamic classes.

Indeed, it was this very issue that led to Yousef’s first arrest, which resulted in his 2010 death sentence for apostasy.

And although that conviction was quashed in 2012 following international outcry, Yousef still had to serve three years in prison for evangelising and was then re-arrested in 2016 on the new charges for which he is now back in Tehran’s Evin Prison, in the second year of a ten-year sentence for forming a “house church” and “promoting Zionist Christianity”.

Before he was taken back to prison in July 2018, Yousef tried again to ensure his sons were recognised as Christians, but the matter is still to be resolved after local authorities in Gilan Province, where the Nadarkhanis live, appealed against the higher education authority, which had ruled in the family’s favour.

As a result, at the end of the past two academic years, Yousef and Tina’s sons were not provided with certificates to show they completed their studies, because they failed to sit exams in Islamic Studies and the Quran.

Youeil was due to begin 10th grade this year, but he has yet to receive a certificate to show he completed 8th grade, let alone 9th. Meanwhile, Danial, who was due to begin 12th grade, has not received a certificate since completing 9th grade.

Last year, the boys were accepted as “guests” – and also fully paying students – pending the ruling in the family’s case. But this year, although Danial was accepted again as a fully paying “guest”, Youeil was told that, having failed to attain his certificate for the previous academic year, he could not return to school.

Members of recognised religious minorities – including Christians, as well as Jews and Zoroastrians – are ordinarily exempt from classes in Islamic Studies and the Quran, but children of converts to Christianity, such as Yousef’s, are still considered Muslims.

This is despite a fatwa by Iran’s Supreme Leader at the time of Yousef’s initial apostasy case, which stated: “The [convert] himself may be considered an apostate, but if they married after the apostasy, according to their own new religious principles, their children will not be considered apostates.”

But the local education authorities in Gilan, in their appeal against the ruling of the higher education authorities, said that while Yousef may have been recognised as a Christian, the same cannot be said of his wife, Tina.

Yousef and his wife object to this view, saying that Tina was never a practising Muslim and is willing to testify to this in court, and also to provide a copy of Youeil’s birth certificate, which shows that he was registered as a Christian.

They also object to being regularly referred to as kafirs (infidels) in the appeal launched by Gilan’s education authority, saying that they ought to instead be considered, like other Christians, as “people of the book” (the Bible).

And despite the ruling of the Supreme Leader seeming to open the way for the children of Christian converts to be recognised as Christians, it is believed that the Ministry of Intelligence is pressurising the higher education authorities not to set such a precedent by ruling in the Nadarkhanis’ favour.

Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, says this shows the power of the Ministry of Intelligence in Iran – that they would even go so far as to contradict a ruling by the Supreme Leader, their commanding officer.

Mr. Borji used the Nadarkhani family’s story in his testimony to the recent review of the persecution of Christians worldwide, commissioned by the UK government.

Article18 calls for Iran to provide Danial and Youeil, and all children of converts, the opportunity to be educated as Christians, as is their right under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified and which provides parents with the right to pass on their own religious teachings to their children, and denies authorities the right to intervene.

Yousef’s letter

Yousef wrote this letter to the prison authorities, explaining the reasoning behind his decision to embark upon a hunger strike:

“I, Yousef Nadarkhani, an official member of the Christian community, was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to 10 years in prison and two years of internal exile in defiance of all justice. I am currently serving my sentence in the eighth ward [of Evin Prison], where I have decided to start a hunger strike. 

“My decision is motivated by the necessity to defend my children as members of the Christian minority who are violated by discriminatory measures taken at the initiative of officials of the Ministries of Information and National Education. The National Education Ministry has decided to ban the registration of my children as Christians. As part of its measures, they were not provided with the school report card that would allow them to pursue higher education. 

“This is the cry of a father, unjustly imprisoned. Also it is now 11 years that I have been fighting on legal grounds to assert their rights. From tomorrow I will start a hunger strike. I appeal to the Minister of National Education with this act. I hope that the minister will heed this appeal and that he will do, in accordance with the law, what is necessary to put an end to the injustices that my family are suffering as Christians.”

Three converts given six-month sentences for ‘promoting Zionist Christianity’

Three converts given six-month sentences for ‘promoting Zionist Christianity’

Asghar Salehi (left) and Mohammed Reza Rezaei.

Three converts to Christianity have been sentenced to six months in prison for “propaganda against the system through promoting Zionist Christianity”, reports Middle East Concern.

Asghar Salehi, 43, Mohammad Reza Rezaei, 35, and another convert who has not been named were informed of the sentences on Sunday, 22 September, following a hearing at Branch 101 of the criminal court in Eqlid, Fars Province, on 16 September.

Asghar and Mohammed Reza filed their appeals yesterday. 

They were arrested, alongside four others, during raids on their homes in September last year.

Asghar was reportedly interrogated for three days, during which he was kept blindfolded for most of the time, then taken to Eqlid Prison for a further eight days. He was then released on bail after providing his business license as a guarantee.

Asghar, Mohammed Reza and the third convert were then brought before Branch 101 of Eqlid Criminal Court in April 2019 and charged under Article 500 of the penal code, which provides for up to a year’s imprisonment for anyone found guilty of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or support of opposition groups and associations”.

Middle East Concern reports that Asghar was refused permission to speak, warned that he was being monitored and told not to engage in any further Christian activities.

Asghar is reportedly suffering from “potentially serious” health issues.

Tehran withdraws tax exemption from churches, synagogues

Tehran withdraws tax exemption from churches, synagogues

Embed from Getty Images

Churches and synagogues in Tehran are no longer tax exempt, according to a report from Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News.

The Assyrian representative to the Iranian parliament, Yonathan Betkolia, criticised the move, saying churches and synagogues should be afforded the same rights as mosques, including subsidies for water, gas and electricity.

Currently the development only affects churches and synagogues under the jurisdiction of Tehran City Council, but it is believed highly likely that it will be rolled out across the rest of the country in due course.

The news comes as the state-backed Press TV highlighted the restoration of an Armenian church in Tehran. However, Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, noted that the report failed to mention that “more churches have been demolished, confiscated or rendered ‘non-operational’ since the Islamic revolution than have been ‘restored’”.

Earlier this year, Article18 reported on the forced closure of an Assyrian church in Tabriz, northwestern Iran.

That church had itself been previously “confiscated” by Revolutionary Court order in 2011, as Mr. Borji explained at the time:

“Many churches owned by Protestants have been confiscated in Iran. In most cases the government has been unable to repurpose them, especially if they were listed. So they typically remain as empty buildings, often neglected, and turn into ruins before being demolished, as was the case with the church in Kerman.”

Christians from Iran’s historic Assyrian and Armenian communities are a recognised minority, who are usually able to freely practise their faith, providing they don’t open their doors to Muslim-born Iranians by holding services in Persian. 

But if they are perceived to have stepped out of line, these Christians can face criminal charges, as happened with the Assyrian pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his leadership of an underground “house church”.

Such “house churches” have mushroomed in Iran over the past few decades, as more and more Iranians have converted to Christianity. There are believed to be well in excess of 500,000 Christian converts in Iran, worshipping in these secret churches. But when they are discovered, converts face charges of “acting against national security” and prison sentences of up to 10 years.