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IRAN: Latest news about the persecution of Christians

Article 18 (https://articleeighteen.com/reports/case-studies/5941/) – Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoost, Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafada – all members of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran” in the northern city of Rasht – were arrested during raids on their homes and house-churches within the space of a month in January and February 2019. They were sentenced in October 2019 to five years in prison for “actions against national security”. Their appeals were rejected in February 2020.

 

Case in full

 

Hossein Kadivar and Khalil Dehghanpour were detained following a raid on the “house-church” meeting they were leading on 29 January 2019; Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad was arrested on 10 February 2019 during a raid on his home; Kamal Naamanian, Mohammed Vafada and Shahrooz Eslamdoost were arrested at a “house-church” gathering on 15 February; Babak Hosseinzadeh and Mehdi Khatibi were arrested at two separate “house churches” on 23 February; and Behnam Akhlaghi was summoned to the offices of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Sepah) that same day.

 

The nine men were each helping to lead services in the absence of their imprisoned pastor Yousef Nadarkhani.

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

 

Seven of the men – 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.

 

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 for “acting against national security”, after a hearing on 23 September.

 

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

 

Abdolreza, Shahrooz, Behnam, Babak and Mehdi remain in Evin Prison. The other four men are awaiting summonses.

 

Recommendations 

 

Article18 petitions the international community to:

 

  • Urge the Iranian government to uphold its obligations under its own constitution and international law, including provisions for freedom of religion or belief contained within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a state party, without reservation.
  • Call for the immediate acquittal and release of Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoost, Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafada.
  • Call for the swift application of due process in the cases of all who are detained and/or awaiting charges, trials, sentences or appeal hearings on account of their Christian faith and activities.
  • Support Professor Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, in monitoring Iran’s compliance with international human rights standards, including freedom of religion or belief.

 

Background

 

There has been a significant increase in human rights violations in Iran in recent years, and particularly in the persecution of religious minorities, principally of Christians from the Iranian house-church movement.

Ethnic Christian communities (Assyrian and Armenian) are permitted a degree of freedom to worship, although it is illegal for these churches to conduct services in Persian (the national language of Iran and the common language of converts).

 

Bibles and other Christian literature are also illegal in Persian and those found in possession of such materials, especially in sufficient quantities for distribution, can expect severe treatment and prison sentences.

 

Therefore, the growing community of Christian converts are not permitted to attend recognised churches and they have to gather for worship in secret house-churches and risk arrest and imprisonment.

 

In the past few years, a number of Christians have been handed down sentences of between 10 and 15 years, charged with offences such as “acting against national security”. These political charges are used to help avoid international outcry at religiously motivated charges such as apostasy.

 

Those detained or charged often have to obtain and hand over exorbitant amounts for bail, which are often forfeited as some choose to flee the country in the knowledge that they are very unlikely to receive a fair trial and just verdict.

 

Those awaiting trial who flee the country are tried in absentia. Many will face a gruelling legal process, and until their case is heard, which could take several years, their lives are in limbo.

 

The majority of the Christians arrested in the last few years have been released, either after finishing their prison sentences or temporarily released on bail with severe warnings and threats against any further Christian activity. Once released, they are closely monitored, and risk re-arrest and imprisonment if they engage, or are suspected of engaging, in any Christian activity.

 

Iran is 9th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian. Article18’s latest annual report names 25 Christians arrested in 2019 and 13 Christians who received sentences of between four months and five years in prison for alleged “actions against national security”.

 

Criminal cases against many other Christians went unreported, either because no-one raised awareness – arresting authorities frequently issue threats to prevent publicity – or because those involved requested confidentiality. At least 17 Christians were imprisoned at the end of 2019, all serving sentences based on national security-related charges.





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IRAN: Six Christians among 54,000 released from prison

Article 18 (04.03.2020) – https://bit.ly/2TCq871 – Six Christians were among the more than 54,000 prisoners released from custody in Iran over the past week, as part of efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Article18 has already reported on the early release of Assyrian-Iranian Christian Ramiel Bet-Tamraz and the release on bail of Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi on Wednesday last week. Another Christian convert who cannot be named was also released that day.

Then on Monday, 2 March, three more Christian converts were given 36 days’ leave from prison: Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari, who is serving a one-year sentence; Amin Khaki, whose sentence is 14 months; and a third convert who also cannot be identified.

Mahrokh was forced to submit 30 million tomans for bail (around $2,000) – the same as Mary Mohammadi – and Amin 50 million (around ($3,000).

Rights groups have been calling for the release of all political prisoners for weeks, noting that prisons in China, where the virus first emerged, became a hotbed for the disease.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Iran highlighted in his most recent report that the country’s overcrowded prisons are a “source of infections and ill-health” and the “spread of infectious and communicable diseases”.

Succumbing to the growing pressure, on Monday Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, announced that more than 54,000 prisoners who had tested negative for the coronavirus had been released on bail.

The leave did not apply to security prisoners serving sentences of more than five years, Mr Esmaili said, which could explain why more Christian prisoners of conscience were not freed.

Five Christians are currently serving ten-year sentences on security-related charges – Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Yousef Nadarkhani, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, Mohammad Ali Mossayezbazeh, and Mohammad Reza Omidi.

Another five – Abdolreza Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, and Behnam Akhlaghi – have been detained since July last year. They are appealing against five-year sentences.

It is not clear, however, why there has been no furlough for Christian convert Fatemeh (Aylar) Bakhtari, who, like Mahrokh, is serving a one-year sentence.

The families of detainees have called for more prisoners to be released, including those serving longer sentences, with the sister of an imprisoned environmentalist noting that the virus “is unaware of [the length of] sentences when it infects people”.

Counting the cost

Iran has recorded the highest number of deaths (92) from the virus outside of China.

Several senior Iranian figures have been infected, including 23 MPs and the Vice President for women and family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, while a member of the Expediency Council, Mohammad Mirmohammadi – reportedly a close confidant of the Supreme Leader – has died.

Iran rejected an offer of assistance from the United States, but a team of World Health Organization officials have been allowed into the country.

The government has not confirmed any cases of the virus in its prisons, though there have been claims of infections at several prisons.

An open letter by 100 Sunni prisoners in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj claimed the authorities were not doing enough to combat the spread of the virus.

They said they had not been provided with masks, gloves and disinfectant, as requested, and were refused temporary leave.


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