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Iranian Christian convert lashed 80 times for drinking Communion wine

Article18 (14.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/37FuXUT – Iranian Christian convert Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi was today lashed 80 times for drinking wine as part of Holy Communion.


It is illegal for Muslim Iranians to drink alcohol, but exceptions are made for recognised religious minorities, including Christians. However, Iran does not recognise converts as Christians.


This lack of recognition is also the reason Youhan spent the last two years in prison and is now living in internal exile – because of his membership of a house-church, which is the only available Christian fellowship for converts in Iran.


Youhan began his two-year term in exile in the southwestern city of Borazjan one month ago today.


Then, on Saturday 10 October, he received a summons from the authorities in his home city of Rasht, more than 1,000km north of Borazjan, to travel back home at his own expense to receive his lashes.


Youhan and two of his fellow house-church members, Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee, were sentenced to the 80 lashes in September 2016 – by a Rasht civil and revolutionary court which at the same time refused to convict them of “acting against national security” by conducting house-churches.


That conviction – and accompanying 10-year sentences – was instead imposed on them, and their pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, a year later by a revolutionary court in Tehran.


This was not Youhan’s first experience of lashes. Youhan was also given 80lashes in 2013, alongside one other house-church member, forthe same reason: they had used wine with Communion.


However, on both occasions friends of Youhan say he was grateful for the relative leniency shown him by those carrying out the sentence, after he explained to them that he had not acted with impropriety but had only shared in one cup of wine as an act of worship to God.

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IRAN: Christian convert among women prisoners of conscience to describe ‘white torture’

By Fred Petrossian


Article18 (08.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/31vFa25  – Christian convert Mary Mohammadi is among 12 female current and former prisoners of conscience interviewed as part of a new book on “white torture” inside Iran’s prisons.


The book, written by Narges Mohammadi, who was yesterday released after over five years in prison, also includes the testimonies of two Baha’is and two Sufi dervishes – other oppressed religious minorities in Iran – and British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.


The 12 interviewees highlight the numerous ways in which “white torture” was used against them, including solitary confinement, prolonged interrogations, threats to family members, and lack of access to medical care.


The author warns that the effects of these tortures will be lifelong.


Christian convert Mary Mohammadi, who served six months in prison for her membership of a house-church and was given another suspended sentence earlier this year for her part in Tehran protests, explained the “terrible” insults she was subjected to, particularly targeting her parents and her Christian faith.


“For example, they would call the church a gambling house, or say, ‘Why do you read the Bible? Go read the Qur’an!’” Mary explained.


“They would go into the most private corners of my life, which had nothing to do with them at all, and make derogatory remarks. And I couldn’t understand why, when I was interrogated about Christianity, I was blindfolded and made to face the wall – and they would only take it off when I was writing – but then when they wanted to talk to me about personal issues as a woman, I was not blindfolded and made to look at them.”


Mary said that some questions they asked her were “very personal, and no-one has the right to question you about them”, and that “after long, heavy interrogations, I cried, I called on Christ, I spoke to Him, and I prayed”.


‘I’d rather be interrogated than left alone in my cell’


One of the most striking elements of the book is the interviewees’ depictions of the immense loneliness they experienced in solitary confinement.


Nigara Afsharzadeh, a Turkmen national given a five-year sentence in 2014 for alleged spying, explains how she was reduced to talking to ants.


“The cell was silent and there was no sound,” she said. “I scoured the cell just to find something like an ant, and whenever I did, I would talk to it for hours.


“When they brought me lunch, I would crush up some rice and throw it on the floor to attract an ant. I just wanted another living thing in my cell! I was overjoyed when a fly came in one time!”


Sedigheh Moradi, who has spent several periods in prison for her alleged links to dissident groups, explained how on one occasion she was so happy to be joined in her cell by another prisoner, a Christian woman, that “when she came into the cell and took off her blindfold, I hugged and kissed her”.


Baha’i former prisoner of conscience Sima Kiani summed up the sentiment of so many others when she said: “I would rather be interrogated than left alone in a cell.”


Rights activist Atena Daemi, who is currently serving a new two-year sentence after already spending five years in prison, explained solitary confinement as “like a closed box” or “a tin which you feel is being pounded outside by a hammer, to crush it”.


“All the time, suddenly and without warning, they will open the door with a loud crash,” she said. “They have the power to do whatever they want with you, and you have no power at all.”


Threats and deprivations


Another pattern in the book is the huge range of different tactics employed by interrogators in an effort to bend the prisoner to their will.


The former prisoners explain that during interrogations it became clear that the interrogators weren’t looking so much for information – they said it seemed they already knew everything – but that instead they sought only to demoralise the prisoner so much that they would confess to their alleged crimes and do anything else they wanted.


Among the tactics employed are frequent threats to family members.


Mahvash Shahriari, another Baha’i citizen who spent 10 years in prison, said the threats made against her husband and son were “the most difficult” aspects of her interrogations.


“The interrogator told me that your son comes here twice a week, and this is ‘dangerous’ because there he may have an ‘accident’, or that your husband shouldn’t come because, if he does, he will be arrested and executed immediately for apostasy,” she said.


Zahra Zahtabchi, who is serving a 10-year sentence for alleged links with the MKO opposition group, said that when she told her interrogators that her daughters may attend her trial, she was told: “Your sentence is death, so it would be better if they didn’t come.”


Meanwhile, Hengameh Shahidi, a journalist and rights activist sentenced in 2018 to 12 years and nine months in prison, explained how one interrogator told her that he loved her, and even waited for her after her release from prison so that he could propose to her.


“He promised that if I married him, he would close my case forever,” she said. “My answer was that I was willing to accept any sentence imposed on me provided I never had to see him again.”


Some of the tactics were more subtle. Reyhaneh Tabatabaei, another journalist and activist tried three times on charges of “propaganda against the state”, explained that she had been given a war novel to read in prison, which she read seven times, and “later realised how reading this book and imagining scenes of war and killing and death, while in a cell, put more pressure on me”.


But others were very obvious. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is on temporary released from prison but still faces the threat of fresh charges, explained how she was denied medical care in prison, including even tablets prescribed for her, and that when prison guards came to bring her food, they would constantly sniff their noses, which put her off her food.


Sufi dervish Nazila Nouri, who spent a year in prison, said the toilet in her cell had no door, nor wall to provide you with any semblance of privacy.


“The sewage was leaking out, and the cell stunk so much that it made us nauseous,” she said.


Resistance and hope


Yet despite all they have endured, there is a real message of hope in the book, evidence that any attempts to crush their spirits have failed.


“I know that the future of my country will be bright, and that prejudice, hatred and enmity will soon disappear,” Sima Kiani says.


Hengameh Shahidi, who has undergone several hunger strikes during her incarceration, said such strikes have provided her and prisoners like her with a way of “showing resistance and protesting against oppression”.


So while ‘White Torture’ is a book about pain, it is also a portrayal of hope and resistance.

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Christian converts leave Iran, facing combined 35 years in prison

Article18 (10.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/3ivUSk7 – Three Iranian Christian converts whose appeals against a combined 35 years in prison were recently rejected want to let their supporters know they are safe and well outside the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IRAN: Prison sentences for Rasht converts

Article 18 (05.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/33z09D0 – Four Iranian Christian converts have received prison sentences of between two and five years for “acting against national security” by belonging to a house-church and “spreading Zionist Christianity”.


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


The sentences were pronounced on Saturday, 1 August.


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


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


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


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


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


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

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IRAN: Anglican Church member given third prison sentence at retrial

Article 18 (18.05.2020) – https://bit.ly/2TmAuHD – 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.”

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