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Christian convert, 65, overturns first of three jail sentences on appeal

Christian convert, 65, overturns first of three jail sentences on appeal

Sixty-five-year-old Iranian Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad has had his three-year jail sentence for “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs” overturned on appeal.

Ismaeil was informed of the verdict yesterday by his lawyer, Farshid Roofoogaran.

In the verdict, dated 5 July, the judge at the 17th Branch of the appeal court in Shiraz, Jamshid Kashkouli, accepted Mr Roofoogaran’s defence that Ismaeil had not been the originator of a social media joke insulting Islamic clerics – he had only responded with a smiley face emoji – and that anyway the clerics themselves are not considered “sacred” in Islam.

Ismaeil is still awaiting the result of separate appeals against two further jail sentences – of one and two years, respectively – for “propaganda against the state” and membership of a “Zionist Evangelical Christian” group “hostile to the regime”. (Ismaeil is an Anglican Church member.)

Background

Ismaeil received his three-year sentence on 11 January, following a hearing on 8 January at Branch 105 of the Civil Court in Shiraz. He was sentenced under Article 513 of the Islamic Penal Code, which provides for a punishment of between one and five years in prison.

On 27 February, Ismaeil was sentenced by a Revolutionary Court to two years in prison for “membership of a group hostile to the regime”, under Article 499 of the Islamic Penal Code, which provides for three months to five years’ imprisonment.

The judge at the 1st Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, Seyed Mahmood Sadati, later ordered a retrial, which took place on 9 May 2020

Ismaeil was informed of the verdict a week later: he had been reconvicted of membership of a “Zionist Evangelical Christian” group “hostile to the regime” and convicted of the additional charge of “propaganda against the state”, for which he was given a separate one-year jail sentence.

Having overturned the first of his three prison sentences, Ismaeil and his family are now anxiously awaiting the result of his appeals against the two remaining sentences.

Arrest of another Christian convert confirmed in Tehran

Arrest of another Christian convert confirmed in Tehran

A 46-year-old Christian woman has been named as another of those arrested during a series of raids on the homes of Christians last week by intelligence agents belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Malihe Nazari, who is married with two sons aged 22 and 15, was arrested at her home in the Sadeghiyeh district of Tehran last Tuesday evening, reports Mohabat News.

Article18 reported on Friday that at least 12 Christians had been arrested in a coordinated operation on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning targeting house-church members in Tehran, sister city Karaj and also Malayer, 400km southwest of Tehran. 

The confirmation of Malihe’s arrest means that the total number of arrests was at least 13.

As Article18 reported, the others known to have been arrested were: in western Tehran’s Yaftabad district, Armenian-Iranian Christian Joseph Shahbazian and Christian converts named Reza, Salar, Sonya, and elderly sisters Mina and Maryam; in separate raids on their homes in Tehran and Karaj, two men named Farhad and another named Arash; and, finally, three more Christian converts in Malayer named Sohrab, Ebrahim and Yasser.

Dozens more Christians were ordered to provide their contact details and told they will be soon be summoned for questioning.

According to Mohabat News, Malihe is a member of a women’s-only house-church known as “Yek Delaan” or “One Heart”, which has dozens of mostly middle-aged members.

During the raid, Malihe’s house was reportedly searched and several of her personal belongings were confiscated, including her computer, mobile phone and a number of books.

The agents then took Malihe away, and told her family she would be taken to Evin Prison.

When they went to visit her at the prison the next day, they found Malihe’s name on the list of detainees but weren’t able to see her, although the following day she was able to briefly call home to say that she was OK. 

Malihe’s eldest son has reportedly been battling with cancer for the past two years.

12 Christians arrested by Revolutionary Guards in three cities

12 Christians arrested by Revolutionary Guards in three cities

At least 12 Christians have been arrested by intelligence agents belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in a coordinated operation across three cities.

The arrests took place on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning in Tehran, its sister city Karaj, and Malayer, 400km southwest of Tehran.

Dozens more Christians were ordered to provide their contact details and told they will be soon be summoned for questioning.

What happened?

The first arrests took place at around 8pm on Tuesday evening, in western Tehran’s Yaftabad district.

Ten intelligence agents – eight men and two women – raided the home of a recent Christian convert, where around 30 Christians had gathered.

The agents, who were armed and wore masks, were reportedly polite as they filmed the raid and separated men from women, but later turned the cameras off and treated the Christians harshly.

All those present were taken down to the building’s car park, where a van with blacked-out windows awaited, as well as several cars. All cars belonging to local residents seemed to have been moved to make space for the agents’ cars and for the garage to become a quasi interrogation room.

The agents then proceeded to read out a list of names written on an arrest warrant.

The six present whose names were read out – Armenian-Iranian Christian Joseph Shahbazian, and five Christian converts named Reza, Salar, Sonya, and elderly sisters Mina and Maryam – were handcuffed, blindfolded and taken away, and have not yet been able to contact their families to tell them where they have been taken.

The others whose names were not read out – many of them recent converts – had their mobile phones confiscated and were ordered to fill out forms providing information of another method by which they could be reached, and told not to follow-up on the confiscation of their phones for at least 72 hours.

They were also ordered to write down that none of their property had been confiscated, even after the confiscation of their mobile phones and despite their protestations.

The agents then drove the six arrested Christians, as well as some of those whose names were not on the list, to their homes in Tehran and Karaj to carry out searches of their properties, looking especially for Bibles, other Christian literature and communications devices.

According to the reports of witnesses, some of the Christians were beaten, as well as some of their non-Christian family members. 

The agents later went to the homes of the three Christian converts whose names were read out but had not been present – two men called Farhad, and another named Arash – and arrested them.

Coordinated operation

Meanwhile, on the same night, three Christian converts were called in the city of Malayer and told to report to the Revolutionary Guard intelligence office the next day for questioning.

The three Christians – named Sohrab, Ebrahim and Yasser – were arrested the next morning, before they had the chance to turn themselves in.

They were then detained, but released the next day – yesterday – after posting bail of 30 million tomans (around $1,500) each.

All that is known about the fate of the other arrested Christians is that two of them had their bail set at 50 million tomans (around $2,500), and are currently seeking to raise the amount to secure their temporary release.

It is believed that the raids were coordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group within the past few months and gained their trust.

This individual is reported to have accompanied the intelligence agents in their raid on the Tehran house-church, and to have even stood next to the judge as he later read out his bail demands.

Bushehr Christians face prison, exile, work restrictions and fines

Bushehr Christians face prison, exile, work restrictions and fines

L to R: Pooriya Peyma, Fatemeh Talebi, Maryam Falahi, Sam Khosravi, Habib Heydari, Sasan Khosravi, Marjan Falahi.

Seven Christian converts in the south-western Iranian city of Bushehr have been given sentences ranging from prison and exile to work restrictions and fines.

The seven, including three married couples, received their verdicts on 21 June at the revolutionary court in Bushehr.

They were given 20 days to appeal, and intend to do so.

The four men – Habib Heydari, Pooriya Peyma, and brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi – each received custodial sentences. Sam and Sasan also face work restrictions and exile after their release.

The three women – Fatemeh Talebi, and sisters Maryam and Marjan Falahi – were fined. Maryam, a nurse, was also given a lifetime ban on working for any national institution, including the hospital she’s worked at for 20 years.

Details of sentences

Sam and Sasan were each sentenced to one year in prison, followed by a two-year exile from Bushehr, which includes a ban on working in their specialist profession – the hospitality sector.

Habib also received a one-year prison sentence, but no exile or work restrictions. Pooriya received a 91-day sentence – the minimum jail time required to ensure the prisoner leaves with a criminal record – and again no exile or work restriction.

Sam and Sasan’s wives, Maryam and Marjan, received fines of 8 million tomans (around $400) and 6 million tomans (around $300) respectively. 

Maryam’s additional lifetime ban on employment at any national institution is a severe blow after her two decades of service at the local hospital.

Finally, Pooriya’s wife, Fatemeh, received a 4 million toman fine (around $200) – equivalent to two months’ salary for the average Iranian.

The seven Christians were given their verdicts to read, but not allowed to take them home or to make copies.

They were each convicted of the same charge – “propaganda against the state” – under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, which provides for up to a year in prison for anyone found guilty of engaging in “any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations”.

The Iranian Parliament recently passed amendments to two articles of the Penal Code, including Article 500, but they do not appear to have had any impact in this particular verdict.

The amendments enable judges to label those convicted of “insulting Islam” or “propaganda against Islam” as being members of “sects”. Those convicted of membership of such groups can face flogging or even the death penalty, in addition to imprisonment and fines.

Background

The seven Christians were first arrested on 1 July 2019, alongside Sam and Sasan’s mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh, who is in her sixties and as a result was released later the same day. 

The seven detained Christians were released over two weeks later, having each posted bail of 300 million tomans (around $30,000).

During the arrests, officers introducing themselves as agents from the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) stormed the Christians’ homes in a coordinated operation, confiscating Bibles, Christian literature, wooden crosses and pictures carrying Christian symbols, along with laptops, phones, all forms of identity cards, bank cards and other personal belongings.

The agents also searched their work offices and confiscated computer hard drives and security-camera recordings. 

They treated them harshly, even though small children were present during the arrests.

The seven Christians were then held in solitary confinement in the MOIS office in Bushehr and denied access to lawyers. They were also coerced to confess to their “crimes” on camera.

Some of their associates were later summoned for interrogation.

The seven initially faced two additional charges – “collusion”, and “membership of a group hostile to the regime” – which could have led to ten-year sentences.

They were acquitted of those charges at a hearing on 30 December 2019, but told that the remaining charge against them was “applicable” because of their possession of Christian literature and other Christian items, which were claimed to be evidence they had evangelised.

The judge even named some of the Christian literature that had been found at their properties, including copies of ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘Getting to Know the Bible’.

A further hearing took place on 20 April, after which the court clerk told them they could expect a verdict within a week, though their lawyer told them it could take months.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, commented: “Condemning these people to prison because of their possession of Bibles and Christian symbols is a clear demonstration that Iran’s Foreign Minister and others aren’t telling the truth when they say that ‘no-one is put in prison in Iran simply because of their beliefs’.

“These people have done nothing that could be construed as ‘propaganda against the state’ or ‘acting against national security’, but nevertheless they have been treated so unjustly. The international community must hold Iran to account for this miscarriage of justice, and many others like it.”

Christian converts’ sentences reduced, but not overturned

Christian converts’ sentences reduced, but not overturned

Left to right: Saheb Fadaee, Yousef Nadarkhani, and Youhan Omidi.

Three Christian converts currently serving 10-year sentences in Tehran’s Evin Prison have had their sentences reduced at a retrial, but they are still facing years in prison and exile.

Yousef Nadarkhani and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee’s sentences have been reduced to six years, and Mohammadreza (Youhan) Omidi’s to two years, meaning he will shortly be due for release.

However, both Youhan and Yousef still face two years in exile after their release – Youhan to Borazjan, in southwestern Iran, and Yousef to Nikshahr, in the southeast.

Meanwhile, fellow Christian convert Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh has been informed that his own retrial – to challenge his own unrelated 10-year sentence – will not take place.

Nasser began serving his sentence in January 2018; Yousef, Saheb and Youhan joined him in Evin Prison six months later.

The cases against all four men relate to their leadership of house-churches.

Yousef, who is 43, Youhan, 47, and Saheb, 39, were arrested alongside Yousef’s wife and another Christian convert, 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 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, their petitions for retrials were accepted, and now, today, they have finally been informed of the verdict after an anxious wait, during which time they have had to remain in prison, despite the coronavirus outbreak.

There was no hearing, as such, and the judgment was made in their absence – as has become more common during the pandemic – by Judge Hassan Babaee at the 54th branch of the appeal court in Tehran.

Yasser was not part of the retrial bid.

Nasser, who is 58 years old, was also led to believe that his petition for a retrial had been accepted, but he was informed earlier this month that in fact no retrial would take place in his case.

Nasser is also in prison because of his leadership of a house-church. The precise charges against him were “actions against national security through the establishment of house-churches”.

He was arrested in June 2016, and sentenced the following May, then summoned to serve his sentence after his appeal was rejected in November 2017.

Article18’s advocacy director commented: “Although the reduction in Yousef, Youhan and Saheb’s sentences is to be welcomed, Yousef, Saheb and Nasser are still facing years in prison, and Youhan is soon to exiled, while that same fate also awaits Yousef.

“None of these men have done anything wrong, so the sentences against each of them remain serious miscarriages of justice.”

Rasht Christians pleaded for more time with families before imprisonment

Rasht Christians pleaded for more time with families before imprisonment

Left to right: Khalil Dehghanpour, Mohammed Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar.

Article18 reported last week that four Iranian Christian converts from the northern city of Rasht had been summoned to begin their five-year prison sentences and given a deadline of 2 June to report to Evin Prison in Tehran.

Article18 can now reveal that the four men – Hossein Kadivar, 48, Khalil Dehghanpour, 44, Kamal Naamanian, 45, and Mohammed Vafadar, 39 – went to the Revolutionary Court in Rasht a day ahead of their summons deadline to ask for a few more days with their families before beginning their sentences.

Instead, they were placed in handcuffs and held for five days, before being transferred directly to Evin Prison on Saturday, 6 June.

They were only able to contact their families after a few days’ detention to tell them the news.

Three of the four men are married with children: Hossein has an 18-year-old son; Kamal has two sons, aged 18 and 11; and Khalil has a 17-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son.

Since being in Evin Prison, the men have been able to speak with their families for only a few short minutes each day – via the prison telephone.

Behnam Irani, one of the leaders of the “Church of Iran” network to which the men belong, who spent six years in prison for his religious activities, gave this reaction to Article18: 

“In these days when the world is plagued by the coronavirus crisis, and a global consensus has been formed to combat this scourge – and how to solve the problems of citizens is the main concern and priority of most state officials – it is unfortunate that the Islamic Republic of Iran, instead of seeking the safety of its people, continues its repressive policies against religious minorities, especially Christians.

“The consequences of unjust imprisonments like these on families are often so severe that they can last for many years – even after their loved one’s release from prison. Hopefully one day the international community will wake up to the continued oppressive policies of the Iranian regime by taking serious action.”

Background

The four Christians had been awaiting summonses since their appeals were rejected in February, having been sentenced in October 2019 alongside five others from the same house-church network in the northern city of Rasht: Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoost, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi and Behnam Akhlaghi. 

Those five begun their sentences earlier, having been detained since July last year, when they were unable to pay the high bail demanded from them after they insisted on being defended by their own lawyer.

All nine men were arrested in a series of raids on their homes and house-churches in January and February 2019.

They were each helping to lead services in the absence of their imprisoned pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, alongside whom they are now incarcerated in Evin Prison.

Christians’ appeal hearing postponed again – this time without excuse

Christians’ appeal hearing postponed again – this time without excuse

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

Yet another appeal hearing in the long-running court cases against an Iranian-Assyrian pastor, his wife and three Christian converts was postponed today in Tehran.

Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram Issavi, and converts Hadi Asgari, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, and Amin Afshar-Naderi are facing between five and 15 years in prison because of their Christian activities.

But since their sentencing – Victor and the three converts in July 2017 and Shamiram in January 2018 – numerous appeal hearings have been scheduled only to be postponed.

Previous excuses have included the failure to officially summon every defendant; the court being “too crowded”; and the assigning of a new judge to the case.

This time, no excuse was given. Instead, after a long wait at Branch 36 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran, Victor, Shamiram and their lawyers were simply told the hearing had been cancelled – their lawyers and those of the three converts weren’t even allowed in to the room. 

Victor and Shamiram’s daughter Dabrina said the lawyers were “actually quite relieved”, as in the hearing just beforehand, another of one of the lawyer’s clients had failed to overturn a 15-year prison sentence.

“They feared that if my parents had their hearing that their sentences would be confirmed as well,” Dabrina told Article18.

No new date has been communicated to them for when the next scheduled hearing may – or may not – take place. 

Ahead of the hearing, Dabrina had spoken of her anxieties; she has previously stated how the ongoing saga is in itself a kind of “torture” to her and her parents.

“Now that we have a new judge, we don’t know how he will react to the details of the case,” Dabrina told Article18 on Friday. “At the previous hearing he assured my parents that he will try to close the case and have it done with as soon as possible. What that means we don’t know.

“I am worried, personally, and my parents, they keep going, they are strong and believe that God’s will will be done.

“The last hearing, in February, which was postponed after they failed to summon Hadi, was before all of this coronavirus situation.

“I think that many things are now on hold due to COVID-19 and I know the prisons are still overcrowded. There’s a lot of instability in the government, but how much it influences the Christian cases we don’t know.

“My parents have tried to keep the social distancing and hygiene measures as best as they can, but if they go to prison, prisons are anyway not healthy environments for elderly people. So going to prison, at their age (Shamiram is 64, Victor 65), with my mum’s heart issues and my dad’s blood pressure issues and other problems, would be unimaginable.”

House-church leaders summoned to begin five-year prison sentences

House-church leaders summoned to begin five-year prison sentences

Left to right: Khalil Dehghanpour, Mohammed Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar.

Four Iranian Christian converts have been summoned to begin their five-year jail sentences for leading house-churches, for which they were convicted of “acting against national security”.

Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafadar were summoned on Thursday 28 May and told they must submit themselves at Tehran’s Evin Prison by tomorrow.

They had been awaiting summonses since their appeals were rejected in February.

The four men were sentenced in October 2019, alongside five others from the same house-church network in the northern city of Rasht: Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoost, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi and Behnam Akhlaghi. 

Those five are already serving their sentences, having been detained since July last year, when they were unable to pay the high bail demanded from them after they insisted on being defended by their own lawyer.

The nine Christians were arrested in a series of raids on their homes and house-churches in January and February 2019.

Hossein and Khalil were detained following a raid on the house-church meeting they were leading on 29 January; Abdolreza was arrested on 10 February during a raid on his home; Kamal, Mohammed and Shahrooz were arrested at a house-church gathering on 15 February; Babak and Mehdi were arrested at two separate house-churches on 23 February; and Behnam was summoned to the offices of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Sepah) that same day.

They were each helping to lead services in the absence of their imprisoned pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, alongside whom they will now all be incarcerated in Evin Prison.

Two of them – Abdolreza and Kamal – had been arrested before for their Christian activities.

Seven of them – all except Abdolreza and Shahrooz – were released on bail in March 2019, after depositing the equivalent of $13,000 each. Abdolreza and Shahrooz were detained.

Then in July 2019, Abdolreza, Shahrooz, Behnam, Babak and Mehdi 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 of lawyer 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, where they have remained.

The other four 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.

On 13 October, all nine men were sentenced to five years in prison, after a hearing on 23 September. 

Their appeals were rejected following a hearing on 25 February 2020.

Fires at three religious minority sites in days

Fires at three religious minority sites in days

Fires have been reported at three sites belonging to religious minorities, including a Christian cemetery, in just a few days in Iran.

First, on Friday, the director of antisemitism watchdog ADL, Jonathan Greeblatt, tweeted that the tomb of Biblical figures Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai in Hamedan, west of Tehran, had been “set afire overnight”, meaning that it would have taken place on the anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

The next day, Iran International posted video footage of the aftermath of a fire inside a Hindu temple in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas.

Then on Sunday, Manoto News broadcast footage of smoke billowing over the walls of a Christian cemetery in Eslamshahr, just south of Tehran.

The governor of Eslamshahr blamed the cemetery fire on a guard burning grass; the Hindu temple fire was blamed on religious artefacts catching alight; only in the case of Esther and Mordecai’s tomb has there been any accusation of intent, with journalist Farzane Ebrahimzade tweeting that someone had thrown an object at the tomb.

The US Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, tweeted his condemnation of the alleged attack, noting that it followed threats against the tomb’s existence.

The Alliance for the Rights of All Minorities in Iran (ARAM) reported in February that the Iranian authorities were planning to destroy the tomb and convert the site into a consular office for Palestine.

About 10 years previously, Basijis from the local university threatened to destroy the tomb in retaliation for any attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

On the day of the fire, and in the days since, a number of antisemitic tweets have been posted using the hashtag #covid1948, alongside calls for a “free” Palestine.

‘Decades-long dehumanisation’

While there is no evidence of any government involvement in any of the weekend’s fires, and the timing may only be coincidental, Iran has been condemned for directing a campaign of hate speech against religious minorities, and thereby inciting attacks and later failing to stand up against the perpetrators.

Speaking to Article18, Kamran Ashtary, executive director of the Amsterdam-based NGO Arseh Sevom, said: “It is not a secret to anyone that the Islamic Republic of Iran, from the first day of the revolution, has had a problem with minorities, especially religious minorities. 

“We’ve seen a decades-long dehumanisation of Baha’i people that has led to harassment, murder, arrests, and marginalisation. In addition, we know that the regime distributes and creates hateful and antisemitic propaganda and tolerates its spread online via servers located in Iran.”

Yesterday the Iranian Parliament approved a bill barring any cooperation with Israel, including the use of any Israeli computer hardware or software. They had also proposed banning any Iranian athletes from competing with their Israeli counterparts, but this was removed at the last minute.

Meanwhile, this coming Friday will be Quds Day in Iran, an annual event established by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to express support for Palestine on the last Friday of Ramadan.

Khomeini’s successor Ali Khamenei has regularly spoken out against minorities, including Christian converts, and implicitly given the green light for his security forces to target them.

In a speech in October 2010 he named house-churches among the “critical threats” facing the Islamic Republic, and in June 2017 he went further by saying: “Officers against the soft war [of Western influences] should recognise their duty, make decisions and act in a fire-at-will form.”

As the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported at the time, “Iranian officials often refer to Western cultural influences as a ‘soft war’ against their national and religious values”.

Meanwhile, many of the charges levelled against Christians include alleged “actions against national security” and links to “Zionist” groups.

Following his June 2017 speech, renowned Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi told CHRI: “Iran’s leader spoke about firing at will only recently, but as a matter of fact, this policy has been in place and enforced for many years. Firing at will means to ignore the law and usher in chaos and anarchy. If someone can fire at will, others will feel they have that right too, and this will only lead to disorder and lawlessness.”

Saeed Peyvandi, a Paris-based sociologist and university professor, told Article18: “The government’s identity-centred discourse and blatant rejection of non-violence have led to a culture of intolerance among some sections of society, especially among pro-government groups. 

“At the same time, in recent years, the judiciary has not taken any serious action against those who harass minorities. Assailants have a kind of judicial immunity for doing what the government cannot do directly, and sanctioned by the words of Mr Khamenei.”

Anglican Church member given third prison sentence at retrial

Anglican Church member given third prison sentence at retrial

An Iranian Anglican Church member has been reconvicted of membership of a “Zionist Evangelical Christian” group “hostile to the regime” at his retrial, and convicted of the additional charge of “propaganda against the state”.

Ismaeil Maghrebinejad, 65, was informed of the verdict on Saturday, 16 May, following his retrial the previous Saturday at the 1st Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz.

Judge Seyed Mahmood Sadati reached the same verdict as in his initial February ruling by giving Ismaeil a two-year sentence for “membership of a hostile group”, but added an additional year in prison for “propaganda against the state”.

While it is likely that Ismaeil will only have to serve the longer sentence of two years, he also faces an additional three years in prison for his January conviction at a civil court for “insulting Islam”, which he would have to serve separately.

Ismaeil, who is appealing against all three convictions, initially faced four charges after his arrest in January 2019 – also “apostasy”, for which he could have faced the death sentence.

That charge was dropped during a November 2019 hearing, but the other three charges were found “applicable”, although the charge of “propaganda against the state” was not cited in his 27 February conviction, so it appeared that it had been combined with the other charge of “membership of a hostile group”.

Why the retrial?

Judge Sadati called for the 9 May retrial himself, saying he had been unhappy with his initial verdict and wanted to make some “corrections”, giving hope to Ismaeil and his family that the judgment may be quashed.

However, despite the protestations of his lawyer, Farshid Rofoogaran, that Ismaeil had “in no way, shape or form been a member of any hostile organisation”, he was given an even stiffer sentence.

In his ruling, Judge Sadati referred to the findings of the intelligence agents of Iranian armed forces, who were responsible for his arrest, and Ismaeil’s alleged “admission” of guilt – for acknowledging that a Bible verse from the book of Philippians had been sent to his phone by a Christian satellite TV channel. 

A printout of the verse was shown to him in the court, which he acknowledged, after which he was dismissed from the room. 

His lawyer, Mr Rofoogaran, proceeded to argue that the court had not been presented “with one single reason, piece of evidence or document that would justify the verdict issued”.

He added that the indictment was “very vague” and “lacked any supporting statement”, and that Ismaeil’s only “crime” had been to receive a message from a Christian satellite television channel; he hadn’t even forwarded it to anyone.

“Even if those groups that have Telegram or WhatsApp channels are accepted as ‘hostile’,” Mr Rofoogaran said, “receiving messages without forwarding them to anyone else does not constitute membership of that organisation.”

Mr Rofoogaran went on to criticise the way the case had been handled, noting that the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” had not been observed.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, pointed out that “Ismaeil’s arrest took place without any prior evidence being found against him. Instead, the intelligence agents went through his personal belongings and tried to dig up evidence against him. The charge that didn’t stick they had to drop; the charges that remain have no legal basis.”