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Christian convert, 65, sentenced to three years in prison

Christian convert, 65, sentenced to three years in prison

Ismaeil Maghrebinejad, a 65-year-old convert to Christianity, has been sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs”.

He was sentenced under Article 513 of the Islamic Penal Code, which provides for a punishment of between one and five years in prison.

His sentencing, on 11 January, followed a court hearing on 8 January at Branch 105 of the Civil Court in Shiraz.

He has 20 days to appeal.

Ismaeil, who was arrested at his home in January 2019, is still facing two other charges: “propaganda against the the Islamic Republic”, “membership of a group hostile to the regime”.

A fourth charge, of apostasy, for which he could have faced the death sentence, was dropped at a court hearing in November.

At that same November court hearing, the judge ruled that the case against him regarding “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” was “applicable”, because he had created a Telegram channel in which he had “promoted evangelical Christianity”.

‘Disproportionate’

The 8 January hearing focused solely on the charge of “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs in the cyberspace”, for which Ismaeil was found guilty because he had forwarded a message that had been sent to his phone, which poked fun at the ruling Iranian clerics.

Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, said the sentence was a “disproportionate reaction to something so ordinary.

“The other charges that Ismaeil is facing, as well as the now-quashed charge of apostasy, related to his conversion to Christianity. This may reveal the real reason why he’s been charged for something that most ordinary Iranians do on a daily basis.”

Ismaeil’s defence team had pointed out that he was not even the originator of the joke.

Ismaeil’s family were initially hopeful of better news, after the charges of apostasy, for which he could have faced the death sentence, were dropped.

In October, Ismaeil’s bail was increased tenfold after he responded to a question from the judge about whether he had insulted Islam and was an apostate by saying that he had never insulted Islam and that different ayatollahs had different opinions over the question of apostasy.

Harassment

Ismaeil converted to Christianity nearly 40 years ago and has since been regularly harassed by Iran’s security forces, despite Iran’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, both guaranteeing freedom of religion, including the right to hold a religion of one’s choosing and to propagate that religion.

Ismaeil’s daughter, Mahsa, told Article18 last year she believed her father was being harassed in part because she and her husband, Nathan, who now live in America, continue to pastor Christians in Iran through the Internet.

Article18’s latest annual report, released yesterday, highlighted the harassment faced by Mahsa’s father and also Nathan’s parents, who received several visits from intelligence agents in 2019, with the agenda of putting pressure on them and damaging their reputation in the community.

Background

Around ten years after Ismaeil’s conversion, an attempt was made on his life, which he only narrowly survived. 

Ismaeil’s late wife, Mahvash, also converted to Christianity, in 1999, but when she died, in 2013, Ismaeil was prevented from burying her in a Christian cemetery, despite a letter from the head of the Anglican Church in Iran, Bishop Azad Marshall, stating that she was a “committed member of the Anglican Church in Iran, who had been baptised and confirmed”.

Instead, her body was taken to a Muslim cemetery, where she was buried following a Muslim ceremony in the presence of security guards, with only five family members allowed to attend.

Mahvash had also been interrogated on numerous occasions during the first years after her husband’s conversion and was fired from her job.

Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi arrested in Tehran

Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi arrested in Tehran

Twitter @Marymohammadii

Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi has been arrested in Tehran and taken to an unknown location, according to the Persian-language news agency HRANA.

The 21-year-old, who after her conversion now prefers to be known as Mary, was reportedly arrested on Sunday near Azadi Square, where protests were taking place following the Iranian government’s admission of guilt in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane.

A number of protesters were reportedly arrested on Sunday evening, as protests took place in several Iranian cities, though it is as yet unclear whether Mary was partaking in any demonstration.

There has since been no news of Mary’s safety or whereabouts and her family are said to be very concerned about her.

On the day of her arrest, Mary published a series of tweets in which she said the Iranian people were facing “soft repression” through being spoon-fed only news that the regime wanted them to read.

In her tweets, she used hashtags that, when translated, mean “hard-pressed” and “suppression is the norm”.

She added that tackling “soft repression” is even harder than tackling the “hard repression” of batons and tear gas and said the Iranian regime is “institutionalising false beliefs through selective coverage of the news”, and “lies that are bigger and more repetitive make them more believable”.

As Article18 has reported, Mary is a rare example of a Christian activist still living in Iran and she has already spent six months in prison as a result of her Christian activity, which was deemed “action against national security” and “propaganda against the system”.

Last month Mary, an English-language student, was kicked out of her Tehran university, without explanation, on the eve of her exams.

She told Article18 she believed she had been expelled as a result of her prior conviction and human rights activism.

“The denial of basic and fundamental rights, such as the right to education, certainly can act as a pressure mechanism and is used as a lever to apply pressure on religious minorities and human rights activists in the hope that individuals will halt their activities and abandon their beliefs,” she said.

“Depriving me of my education is certainly intended to exert pressure upon me, and silence me.”

Background

Last year Mary faced fresh criminal charges relating to her “improper” wearing of hijab. The charges, which were eventually quashed, were brought against her after she initially went to police to complain of an assault.

Mary is active on social media and just a day before being kicked out of university tweeted about the cases of ten fellow Christian converts currently in prison in Iran as a result of their peaceful religious activities.

In a series of tweets, Mary highlighted the sentencing of nine converts in Rasht to five years in prison and the one-year sentence given to a 61-year-old fellow woman convert in Karaj, the sister city to Mary’s home city of Tehran.

“Christmas is fast approaching, and security officials are lurking behind Christians,” Mary wrote, in Persian, in a tweet that also included a link to the video recorded by 61-year-old Rokhsareh Ghanbari before she took herself to prison to begin her sentence.

Asked by Article18 whether she believed her tweets may have led to her expulsion from university, she responded: 

“Of course, all the activities, writings, statements and any action taken by members of minority groups and activists, especially those living in Iran, is constantly monitored by the Islamic Republic… Any such activism could lead to being denied a right, and my recent tweets may have made the authorities even more determined.”

Iran is the ninth hardest place to be a Christian, according to the annual report from religious-freedom watchdog Open Doors International, released yesterday.

Mary referenced the analysis of Open Doors in her recent interview with Article18, saying “it is impossible to provide a comprehensive assessment of the overall situation of Christians in Iran because we don’t have access to all the information about the rights violations against them … but what is striking is that, according to the statistics released every year by organisations such as Open Doors about the numbers of Christians in the world and the countries in which they are most persecuted – and the Islamic Republic’s authorities’ own admission of the growth of Christianity in Iran as a result of conversions – the Islamic Republic, which does not tolerate the right to choose religion, or freedom of thought, is now likely to feel more threatened and weakened and to therefore intensify its battle against these people”.

Campaign

Last year, Mary began a campaign calling for all Iranian Christians – whether from Christian families or converts – to be permitted to go to church.

When asked by Article18 whether she feared for her safety, she responded that she was ready to return to prison, if necessary, in order to fight for the rights of Christians in Iran.

In an article for HRANA, Mary challenged the common misconception that, as there are over 300 churches in Iran and Christians are one of the few “recognised” religious minorities, they are free to practise their faith in Iran.

In fact, as Mary pointed out, those churches are only accessible to members of Iran’s historically “Christian” Armenian and Assyrian communities, whose numbers have fallen dramatically from around 300,000 to perhaps a third of that as a result of emigration, and not the ever-growing community of “Persian Christians” – converts from a Muslim background, of whom there are believed to be between 500,000 and 800,000.

And, as Article18 has reported, even the “recognised” Christians are treated as second-class citizens and closely monitored to ensure they don’t share their faith with Muslim-born Iranians. 

Mary said she believes not enough is known about the situation of Christians in Iran – particularly converts – compared to the significant amount of publicity and advocacy work relating to other rights issues.

“When people talk about women’s rights or against the death penalty, everyone is supporting them. But every time you talk about Christians’ rights, many people say it’s impossible,” she said. “I want to use the campaign to educate people that converts are [considered] inferior.”

And while she said she was not optimistic about the chances of her campaign succeeding, she said she hopes that one day all Christians in Iran will be able to “have a place to praise God, without security guards”.

Iran bulldozes grave of pastor executed for apostasy

Iran bulldozes grave of pastor executed for apostasy

All that now remains of the pastor’s unmarked grave is the soil under which he was once buried.

The grave of the only Iranian Christian to have been executed on official charges of apostasy has been demolished.

The body of Rev. Hussein Soodmand was buried on the edge of the Beheshte-Reza cemetery in Mashhad after his execution nearly 30 years ago, in December 1990.

In all the years since, the only sign that anyone was buried there was a concrete slab. Now, even that has been removed.

When the family went to pay their respects on the anniversary of his execution, on 3 December, all that remained was soil.

The pastor’s daughter, Rashin Soodmand, who now lives in Europe, gave her reaction to Article18:

“As a member of the family of this martyred pastor, I can say that the recent disrespect shown to our father’s grave wounded our hearts yet again.

“Our father was killed cruelly and contrary to the law. They buried him in a place they called la’anatabad [accursed place], without our knowledge, and did not even give our family the opportunity to say goodbye to him, or to see his lifeless body.

“For years we had to travel to this remote place to visit his unmarked grave, and we were not even allowed to construct a gravestone bearing his name.

“And now they want to completely remove the only sing of him left for us. We will take our appeal to any relevant national or international institution about this disrespect and cruelty.”

Pastor Soodmand converted to Christianity before the Islamic revolution and was active in Christian organisations including the Bible Society, and led the Episcopolican church of Isfahan and later the Assemblies of God church in Mashhad. 

He was arrested in 1990 and was tortured and held in solitary confinement for one month.

During a short furlough from prison, his friends advised him to leave the country to save his life, but the pastor preferred to stay, saying to his worried friends:

“By following the example of the great shepherd of the flock, the Lord Jesus Christ, I am willing to sacrifice my life for my sheep. My escape from these dangers would weaken the flock of God and discourage them. I don’t want to be a bad example to them, so I am ready to go to jail again and, if necessary, even to give my life for them.”

Two weeks after resubmitting himself to prison, the pastor was executed after being convicted of apostasy by a special court of clergy. His family was informed after the execution had been carried out.

Rev. Soodmand remains the only Iranian Christian to have been executed for apostasy following an official court order, although others have been sentenced to death including Rev. Mehdi Dibaj and Yousef Nadarkhani

Rev. Dibaj was eventually acquitted after nine years in prison but then killed in suspicious circumstances five months later. His body was found days after his disappearance, in a park in a suburb of Tehran, with multiple stab wounds to his chest. 

Yousef Nadarkhani was also eventually acquitted of the charge but later rearrested on the now much more common charge of “actions against national security”. He is now serving a ten-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Continued destruction of Christian symbols

In the past four decades, there have been numerous reports of the destruction of religious-minority cemeteries, including those of Baha’is, Mandaeans and Christians, as well as those of the victims of the mass killings of political prisoners in 1988. 

Most recently, late last month unidentified people desecrated part of the 15th century Armenian cemetery in Isfahan, as reported by Mohabat News. Crosses and tombstones were broken in the cemetery, which was listed among national heritage sites 18 years ago.

The Islamic Republic has not only closed down and confiscated Persian-speaking churches; it has also destroyed historical churches and monuments in recent years.

Pastor’s son summoned to begin jail sentence

Pastor’s son summoned to begin jail sentence

Ramiel Bet-Tamraz (centre) with his parents, pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and Shamiram Issavi

The son of an Assyrian-Iranian couple facing years in prison for their Christian activities has been summoned to serve his own four-month sentence for “actions against national security”.

Ramiel Bet-Tamraz, who is 35 years old, is the son of pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and Shamiram Issavi, who are facing ten and five years in prison, respectively.

He must submit himself to Tehran’s Evin Prison by tomorrow.

Ramiel’s sister, Dabrina Bet-Tamraz, who now lives outside Iran, has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of her family and other Iranian Christians.

She told Article18 her brother was “staying strong for everybody” but that his three months in prison – Ramiel has already spent one month in detention, which will be deducted from his sentence – will be hard for him and for the rest of the family, and particularly for his wife, Ninebra.

“It’s really tough on her,” Dabrina said. “Really really hard. To see your husband go through imprisonment, pain, not to be able to be with her for three months, and for nothing, because he’s done nothing… If he was a criminal and had done something wrong, we would understand it, but just for having a picnic with other Christians? It’s unjust.”

Ramiel was initially arrested alongside four other Christians on 26 August 2016, as they picnicked together in the Alborz Mountains north of Tehran.

Two of the other Christians, Hadi Asgari and Amin Afshar-Naderi, were later sentenced to ten and 15 years in prison, respectively, while Amir-Saman Dashti, like Ramiel, received a four-month sentence.

Dabrina said that while her brother’s sentence seems comparatively short compared to those given to other Christians, including her parents, “spending even one day in prison, for someone who has done nothing wrong and committed no crime, is a great injustice, and as a family of course we feel worried and anxious, and those three months are going to be very long for him and for us”.

Dabrina’s parents are due to appear in court for their latest appeal hearing on 24 February, when Ramiel will have served about half of the remainder of his sentence. However, their case has been dragging on for years now, and several prospective hearings were postponed last year – the last one, in November, supposedly because the court was “too crowded”.

“What can I say?” said Dabrina, when asked how she and her parents were doing. “It’s not easy on them; it’s not easy on any of us.”

Converts begin six-month jail sentences

Converts begin six-month jail sentences

Asghar Salehi (left) and Mohammad Reza Rezaei (Middle East Concern)

Three Christian converts have begun six-month jail sentences after they were convicted earlier this year of “propaganda against the system through promoting Zionist Christianity”.

Asghar Salehi, Mohammad Reza Rezaei and another convert whose name has not been made public are now serving their sentences in Eqlid Prison in Fars Province, having failed with their appeals.

Middle East Concern reports that Asghar was arrested at his workplace on 12 December and that all three Christians are now in Eqlid Prison.

The charity said the Christians are “thankful that they are being held in the part of the prison with a yard and access to fresh air, but are concerned for the welfare of their families”.

The three men were informed of their sentences on 22 September 2019, following a hearing at Branch 101 of the criminal court in Eqlid a week prior.

They were arrested, alongside four others, during raids on their homes in September 2018.

Following their arrests, Asghar was 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.

The three men 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”.

Asghar was refused permission to speak during the hearing, warned that he was being monitored and told not to engage in any further Christian activities. He was also reported to be suffering from “potentially serious health issues”.

Iranian Christian activist kicked out of university

Iranian Christian activist kicked out of university

Fatemeh Mohammadi started a campaign earlier this year for all Iranian Christians – whether from Christian families or converts – to be allowed to attend church.

An Iranian Christian woman who converted to Christianity as a teenager has been kicked out of her Tehran university without explanation.

Fatemeh Mohammadi, a rare example of a Christian activist still living inside the country, tweeted on Saturday evening that she had been kicked out on the eve of her English-language exams at Azad University and had not been told why.

A source close to Fatemeh told the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) that at the start of term Fatemeh had problems obtaining a student card, which made her “virtually ineligible” to sit classes, and that now that ineligibility has been made official.

Several members of other religious minorities have also reported denial of education in Iran. Just last month a follower of the Yarsan faith was prevented from completing his university dissertation because he refused to deny his religious beliefs, while activists for the Baha’i community frequently report the denial of education to their co-religionists.

Meanwhile, earlier this year fellow Christian convert Yousef Nadarkhani, who is serving a ten-year prison sentence for his peaceful religious activities, went on a three-week hunger strike to protest against the denial of education to his two sons.

Who is Fatemeh Mohammadi?

Fatemeh, who now prefers to be called Mary, is just 21 years old but has already spent six months in prison for her membership of a Tehran “house-church”. When she went to prison, she was just 19.

Mary recently faced new charges related to her “improper” wearing of hijab. The charges, which were eventually quashed, were brought against her after she initially went to police to complain of an assault.

Mary is active on social media and just a day before being kicked out of university tweeted about the cases of ten fellow Christian converts currently in prison in Iran as a result of their peaceful religious activities.

In a series of tweets, Mary highlighted the sentencing of nine converts in Rasht to five years in prison and the one-year sentence given to a 61-year-old fellow woman convert in Karaj, the sister city to Mary’s home city of Tehran.

“Christmas is fast approaching, and security officials are lurking behind Christians,” Mary wrote, in Persian, in a tweet that also included a link to the video recorded by 61-year-old Rokhsareh Ghanbari before she took herself to prison to begin her sentence.

As Article18 has reported, the Iranian security forces often step up their harassment of Christians at Christmas time.

Last year 114 Christians were arrested in one week alone in the run up to Christmas, in a series of raids in ten different cities.

And so far this year there have already been reports of two Christians detained in Tehran and another unnamed “evangelist” arrested in a border city in north-western Iran.

Activism

Earlier this year, Mary began a campaign calling for all Iranian Christians – whether from Christian families or converts – to be permitted to go to church.

In an article on the HRANA website, Mary challenged the common misconception that, as there are over 300 churches in Iran and Christians are one of the few “recognised” religious minorities, they are free to practise their faith in Iran.

In fact, as Mary pointed out, those churches are only accessible to members of Iran’s historically “Christian” Armenian and Assyrian communities, whose numbers have fallen dramatically from around 300,000 to perhaps a third of that as a result of emigration, and not the ever-growing community of “Persian Christians” – converts from a Muslim background, of whom there are believed to be between 500,000 and 800,000.

And, as Article18 has reported, even the “recognised” Christians are treated as second-class citizens and closely monitored to ensure they don’t share their faith with Muslim-born Iranians. 

Mary said she cried after her first visit to a church, because the priest said he didn’t want to talk to her.

“I realised this is the start,” she said. “They put people under pressure, and so if people want to know about Christianity, they say nothing, because it’s too dangerous.”

Raising awareness

Mary said she believes not enough is known about the situation of Christians in Iran – particularly converts – compared to the significant amount of publicity and advocacy work relating to other rights issues.

“When people talk about women’s rights or against the death penalty, everyone is supporting them. But every time you talk about Christians’ rights, many people say it’s impossible,” she said. “I want to use the campaign to educate people that converts are [considered] inferior.”

And while she said she was not optimistic about the chances of her campaign succeeding, she said she hopes that one day all Christians in Iran will be able to “have a place to praise God, without security guards”.

“Human beings are born without a religion,” she wrote in her article. “… Religion is not in the gene or the blood, and cannot be passed down from generation to generation. Therefore a person born to a Muslim parent is not a Muslim, and the same applies to people who are brought up by Christian parents or followers of other religions.”

The article concludes: “Since the text of the constitution has not changed, so today, these rights [promised to all Christians] are within the scope of the law, and Christians should be able to enjoy these rights. Even in the Islamic Republic of Iran, banning Persian-speaking Christians from official churches has no legal basis and is contrary to written law.”

Iranian news site reports arrest of Christian evangelist

Iranian news site reports arrest of Christian evangelist

Pars Abad (Wikipedia)

A local news site in an Iranian city near the Azerbaijan border has reported the arrest of a Christian evangelist.

The report by the Aran Moghan site, which states in its “About us” page that it supports the Islamic revolution, gives very little information about the individual; it only says that a “person” was arrested by intelligence agents in Pars Abad and charged with “religious perversion”, or attempting to “deviate” others from the Islamic faith.

It adds that the person acted among a “vast number” of people, seeking to “publicise evangelical Christianity”, “establish house-churches”, and “destroy Abrahamic religions” by “disturbing public opinion in the public and virtual spheres”.

Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, explains that although Christianity is of course also an “Abrahamic religion”, such wording may have been an attempt to distinguish between the “recognised” Christianity of Armenian and Assyrian Iranians and the “evangelical” or “Zionist” Christianity that the regime regularly criticises as “deviant”.

A number of items were reportedly confiscated from the person, including “books from different denominations” and guidance on “creating networks and increasing membership”, “making contact with foreigners”, and “damaging Islam and other religions”.

The report concludes by saying that as a result of these discoveries, the person was “handed over to the judicial authorities”.

The Iranian authorities repeatedly assert that Christians in Iran have “full religious freedom”, but Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified, states that religious freedom includes the “freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of [one’s] choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest [that] religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching”.

This reported arrest is the latest clear example of Iran’s failure to provide its citizens with the freedom either to change their beliefs or to share them with others.

Yesterday, Article18 joined with 38 other rights groups to call on all members of the UN General Assembly to publicly condemn Iran for “grave human rights violations” including its “systematic” denial of religious freedom, and also the unlawful killing in recent weeks of hundreds of peaceful protesters and detention of thousands more.

Article18 and the other rights groups have asked for the UN member states to support a draft UN resolution that, among other things, expresses “serious concern” about “ongoing severe limitations” to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief for minorities “including Christians alongside Gonabadi Dervishes, Jews, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians and members of the Baha’i faith”.

The resolution calls on Iran to “end widespread and serious restrictions, in law and in practice, on the right to freedom of expression and opinion … and the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and to end its harassment, intimidation and persecution of … persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities and their families, wherever it may occur”.

It also instructs Iran to “cease monitoring individuals on account of their religious identity, to release all religious practitioners imprisoned for their membership in or activities on behalf of a recognized or unrecognized minority religious group and to ensure that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of their choice, in accordance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.

Furthermore, the resolution asks Iran to provide access to the country to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, who has been highly critical of Iran’s mistreatment of its religious minorities, including Christian converts

Iranian Christian denied medical treatment in Evin Prison

Iranian Christian denied medical treatment in Evin Prison

Saheb Fadaei (Middle East Concern)

An Iranian Christian serving a ten-year sentence for charges related to the peaceful practice of his faith has been denied medical treatment in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Zaman Fadaee, who prefers to be known as Saheb, has had a constant fever for over a week and has been hallucinating.

After three days, he went to the prison doctor’s, where he was prescribed two tablets and one injection, then sent back to his cell.

Three days later, when his symptoms remained, Saheb returned to the doctor’s, only to be asked why he had returned and sent back to his cell.

Other prisoners have sought to obtain further medication for him, but without success.

Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, said: “Together with many Christians around the world, we are closely following Saheb’s situation and are concerned about his deteriorating health. The Iranian authorities must stop this repeating patten of neglect and denial of medical treatment for prisoners of conscience. Saheb has a wife and a daughter who are looking forward to him returning home in full health.”

Last year, fellow Christian convert detainee Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, who is also serving a ten-year sentence in Evin Prison, was denied emergency dental treatment despite reportedly being in danger of losing all his teeth.

Amnesty International released a report in 2016 about the “cruel denial of medical care in Iran’s prisons”.

Amnesty cited the example of Maryam Naghash Zargaran, another Christian convert who spent years in Evin Prison because of her peaceful religious activities.

Maryam twice went on hunger strike when she was denied the medical treatment she needed. She left Evin Prison in August 2017 at the completion of her sentence.

Saheb has been in prison since July 2018, after he was convicted in July 2017 of “forming a house-church” and “promoting Zionist Christianity”.

Saheb was sentenced alongside his pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, and two other members of their Rasht church – Mohammad Ali Mossabayeh and Mohammad Reza Omidi. All four men are converts to Christianity.

Yousef recently went on hunger strike to protest against the denial of education to his two sons – because they refused to sit classes in Islamic Studies and the Quran. Ordinarily, Christian children do not have to attend such classes, but as religious conversions away from Islam are unrecognised in Iran, Yousef’s children, and other children of converts, continue to be treated as Muslims.

Earlier this year, Saheb was told he had failed in his appeal against an additional 18-month sentence for “spreading propaganda against the regime”. He was sentenced alongside another Christian convert, Fatemeh (Ilar) Bakhteri, who began her 12-month sentence in August. 

Saheb was also sentenced to two years’ exile in Hamedan province at the completion of his jail sentence.

Last month, fellow Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi became the first Christian to be sent into exile, just two weeks after returning home from six years in prison. He was sent to the remote city of Sarbaz, 1,000 miles from his home in Robat Karim, near Tehran.

Assyrian Christian among Iran protest dead

Assyrian Christian among Iran protest dead

An Assyrian Christian has been named among the scores killed so far in nearly a week of protests in Iran over a sharp rise in fuel prices.

Ashoor Kalta (Human Rights in Iran)

Ashoor Kalta, 37, was killed on Sunday during protests in Fardis, near Karaj, according to the NGO Human Rights in Iran

Estimates of the total number killed vary, but Amnesty International said yesterday that “at least 106″ protesters have been killed in 21 cities, according to “credible reports”. Other reports suggest the figure may be as many as 200, while many more have been injured.

Precise figures are hard to come by, since the Iranian government shut down the Internet for days in order to make it harder for protesters to communicate with one another and to share the reality on the ground with interested observers outside Iran. Monitoring site NetBlocks reported over 100 hours of Internet shutdown, before around 10% of connectivity was restored today.

The Iranian authorities have claimed the arrests of over 1,000 protesters, referring to them as “thugs”, “traitors” and agents of the USA.

The Assyrian representative to the Iranian parliament, Yonathan Betkolia, has yet to respond to the death of the Assyrian Christian, though he earlier encouraged Christians not to participate in the protests, which he blamed on “enemies of the regime”.

The controversial figure is one of five representatives in the Iranian parliament for recognised religious minorities – there are also two Armenian Christians, a Jew and a Zoroastrian. However, all five are extremely restricted in what they can say, and must always be seen to toe the party line.

The Jewish representative, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, was among a delegation from the Iranian government at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier this month, where Iran’s human rights record was reviewed as part of the four-yearly Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of all UN member states.

Mr. Moreh Sedgh, in a short statement as part of the Iranian government’s presentation on its own rights record, said Iranians had “total religious freedom” and that he was “sure that all of the problems of religious minorities can be solved within the framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its constitutional law”.

However, several other member states voices “serious concerns” about the “ongoing severe limitations” to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief for minorities in Iran, and a resolution was passed calling on Iran to “end widespread and serious restrictions, in law and in practice, on the right to freedom of expression and opinion … and the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and to end its harassment, intimidation and persecution of … persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized religious minorities and their families, wherever it may occur”.

The resolution also instructed Iran to stop:

  • “monitoring individuals on account of their religious identity”;
  • “incitement to hatred” against members of religious minorities;
  • denial of education to children of minorities;
  • “unduly harsh sentences … including long-term internal exile”.

It also called on Iran to:

  • “release all religious practitioners imprisoned for their membership in or activities on behalf of a recognized or unrecognized minority religious group”;
  • “ensure that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of their choice, in accordance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”;
  • provide “legal representation of one’s choice” to all defendants.

Just last week, Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi was sent into internal exile following six years in prison, while Article18 has also highlighted the proliferation of hate speech against Christians in Iran; the denial of education to the children of imprisoned Christian convert Yousef Nadarkhani; Iran’s harassment of family members of Christian converts; and how earlier this year five Christian converts had their bail amounts increased tenfold when they insisted on their own choice of lawyer.

The resolution also called on Iran to provide access to the country to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, who has been highly critical of Iran’s mistreatment of its religious minorities, including Christian converts, who are not recognised by the government.

In response, the leader of the Iranian delegation, Mohammad-Javad Larijani, said that “while we don’t have any hostility with [Mr. Rehman] … we think that his appointment is both unjustified and unwarranted” as “Iran is the most important and greatest democracy in the west of Asia” and shouldn’t have been “singled out for special reporting” when there are “nearby countries” where “even the women cannot drive the car ” – a thinly veiled attack on Saudi Arabia.

He also accused Mr. Rehman of “indulging in media manipulation … moving from one side of television to another, and engaging in propaganda against Iran”. 

Mr. Larijani said Mr. Rehman had created a list of “more than 1,000 accusations” against Iran by using “scissor and paste from the media”, and that it was “not feasible” for the rapporteur to “see whether this list of 1,000 accusations is correct or not” during a three-day visit.

He further blamed Mr. Rehman’s reports on “the views that he gets from the MKO”, which he said were “put in the mouth of the special rapporteur” in [the MKO’s] “safe havens” in Berlin, London and the USA.

Mr. Larijani did not respond specifically to the problems faced by Christians in Iran, though he did remark on the situation of the Baha’is, saying that although they were not a recognised religious minority, they are “supported and shielded by the government” and that the “issue made of them outside [Iran]” is very different from the “reality on the field”.

Jailed lawyer who helped Christian convert demands retrial

Jailed lawyer who helped Christian convert demands retrial

Amirsalar Davoudi (Center for Human Rights in Iran)

A human rights lawyer who helped an imprisoned Christian convert with his failed bid for a retrial is now seeking a retrial of his own.

Amirsalar Davoudi was sentenced in June to 30 years in prison for “collaborating with an enemy state through interviews,” “propaganda against the state,” “insulting officials,” and “forming a group to overthrow the state”.

The US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said the “trumped-up charges” related to his work defending prisoners of conscience – one of whom was the Christian convert Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, alongside whom Mr. Davoudi is now incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

“The state does not like lawyers to be independent and puts pressure on those who defend political cases for free, or for a very low fee to cover the cost of the judicial tax,” an unnamed source told CHRI. “They want lawyers to charge a lot so that the political prisoners won’t be able to afford legal counsel. In effect, they want to put lawyers in a bind.”

Mr. Davoudi, who is 28 years old, was arrested (one year ago tomorrow) before he had the chance to submit Nasser’s retrial petition, so one of his deputies stepped in. 

Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh has served two years of his ten-year sentence. (Article18)

After the petition failed, Nasser wrote an open letter from prison, questioning why involvement in house-churches was considered an “action against national security”, and saying he could not understand why he had been given such a long prison sentence – of ten years – as Christians are one of Iran’s “recognised” religious minorities.

“Today marks more than two years since I have been detained in prison for the fabricated charge of acting against national security by running house churches,” he wrote, “even though religious ceremonies are part of our religion.”

Nasser, who is 57 years old, was sentenced to ten years in prison in May 2017 and failed with his appeal six months later.

Mr. Davoudi decided not to file an appeal in his own case as, according to CHRI’s source, he “totally rejected the sentenced” and believed he had “not done anything that would require an appeal”.

Instead, he has filed for a retrial. This means that legally he has the right to be released on bail until the outcome of the judicial review – though it is by no means certain his request will be granted.

CHRI’s source said: “There are no proper legal procedures for political prisoners. They’re arbitrary. We just hope that [Mr. Davoudi] is treated according to the law … and released until the completion of the judicial review.”

Two other human rights lawyers have been given long custodial sentences in Iran over the past year.

Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced in March to 38 years in jail and 148 lashes on charges including an allegation she helped to set up house-churches, while Mohammad Najafi faces a total of 19 years in prison, having received a series of additional jail sentences since his incarceration last October.

Meanwhile, Yousef Nadarkhani and two fellow Christian converts currently serving ten-year prison sentences on national-security-related charges – Mohammad Reza Omidi and Saheb (Zaman) Fadaee – have been granted their own request for a retrial, though they too have yet to be granted bail and remain in Evin Prison.