TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An Iranian court has sentenced a pastor and eight fellow members of the big evangelical Church of Iran movement to jail for leaving Islam.
Church leader Matthias Haghnejad and the other believers were each sentenced to five years imprisonment after a short hearing on September 23, trial observers confirmed to BosNewsLife.
Pastor Haghnejad was detained by the feared Islamic Revolutionary Guard following a church service in February this year, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which supports the Christians.
The other believers Shahrouz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Behnam Akhlaghi, Mehdi Khatibi, Mohammad Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar (Elisha) and Khalil Dehghanpour were reportedly taken into custody in the coastal city of Rasht in early 2019.
Confirmation about their sentences came days after jailed Church of Iran pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, ended a three-week hunger strike, according to Christians familiar with his situation.
Nadarkhani, who is serving a ten-year prison term for church activities, began his action on September 23 to protest against his children being prohibited from continuing with their education.
He described his hunger strike in a letter to prison authorities as “the cry of a father, unjustly imprisoned.” The pastor stressed that the second-generation Christian children are increasingly penalized by educational authorities who do not recognize their faith.
It was not immediately clear whether Nadarkhani would be able to meet the other jailed Christians. Trial observers said the nine men faced a severe July hearing by Judge Mohammed Moghisheh, who activists claim “is notorious” for miscarriages of justice.
He allegedly attempted to coerce Pastor Haghnejad, Eslamdoust, Hosseinzadeh, Akhlaghi and Khatibi, into accepting a court-appointed legal representative.
The judge eventually suspended the proceedings, remanding them in custody on significantly increased bail terms when they refused to do so, reported CSW. “Judge Moghisheh subsequently resumed the trial of Mr. Vafadar, Mr. Naamanian, Mr. Kadivar (Elisha) and Mr. Dehghanpour, who were representing themselves…during which he asserted that the Bible was falsified and called the men’ apostates’,” the term used for leaving Islam, the group added.
During another hearing last month, the defendants’ lawyer was allowed to speak shortly, Christians said. “However, Judge Mogisheh is reported not to have responded to his statement. A source informed CSW that “it seemed as if the judge had already made his decision,” the group explained.
CSW claimed that the judge “allowed this process as a formality before pronouncing a pre-determined sentence.”
All nine Christians are appealing their sentences, but Pastor Haghnejad and those defended by a lawyer were already jailed, CSW said.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group condemns “in the strongest terms,” the sentences handed to the Christians. “Once again, it is clear from the brevity of the trial and reported lack of interest of the presiding judge that due process was not observed. And the judge was not impartial,” he added.
“The charges against these Christians are excessive, completely unfounded and constitute a criminalization of a religion which the Iranian constitution purportedly recognizes,” Thomas said.
He confirmed that CSW called “for the immediate and unconditional release of these nine men,” and all who are behind bars “for their religion or belief in Iran.”
The detentions are part of a broader crackdown on devoted Christians in the Islamic nation, according to several church sources and activists. Apostasy and spreading Christianity often lead to long prison terms and possibly a death sentence in Iran.
Despite these difficulties, mission groups suggest there are at least an estimated 360,000 Christians in the country. They include many former Muslims who turned to Christianity, seeking freedom from strict Islamic rules. Iran’s government-led Statistical Center reports 117,700 Christians in this nation of just over 82 million people.
The U.S. State Department has classified the Islamic Republic as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 “for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
Iranian authorities have denied wrongdoing but say they want to protect the country against dangerous outside influences.
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
Iranian Intelligence agents stormed a 100-year-old church, which is a National Heritage site, and tore down the cross from the tower.
(Article 18) The Assyrian Christian community in the northwestern city of Tabriz has been left it a state of shock, after the Presbyterian church was forcibly closed earlier this month.
Intelligence agents stormed the 100-year-old church, which is a National Heritage site, on Thursday, 9 May, changed all the locks, tore down the cross from the church tower, and ordered the church warden to leave.
“They made it clear that the Assyrian people are no longer allowed to hold any worship service there,” explained a trusted source to Article18.
The source said church members had been fearful since just a few days after Christmas, when pastors from other churches were prevented from visiting the Tabriz church for a joint worship service with other Assyrian and Armenian Christians.
Then on 9 May “a large number” of agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and EIKO, an organisation under the direct control of the Supreme Leader, “entered our church compound and changed all the locks on the doors, removed the cross from the church’s high tower, installed some monitoring instruments and started to threaten and force our custodian to leave his place inside the compound immediately”.
The church, belonging to The Assyrian Presbytery, was “confiscated” by Revolutionary Court order in 2011, but church members had been able to continue using the building for services in the Assyrian language – until now.
“Many churches owned by Protestants have been confiscated in Iran,” explains Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, “In most cases the government has been unable to repurpose them, especially if they were listed. So they typically remain as empty buildings, often neglected, and turn into ruins before being demolished, as was the case with the church in Kerman.”
Christians from Iran’s historic Assyrian and Armenian communities are a recognised minority, who are usually able to freely practise their faith, providing they don’t open their doors to Muslim-born Iranians by holding services in Persian.
Informed sources reported to Mohabat News that “Behnam Ersali, a Christian convert living in Karaj, traveled to Mashhad and was arrested by security guards at a friend’s home on Friday, November 16, 2018 and taken unknown location.
Six plain-clothed security officers entered the house without a legal decree and arrested him along with the another person. The second was released a few hours later.
Behnam Ersali, was a former member of the Assemblies of God church in Tehran. Mohabat New also reported that several years ago Ersali had been fired from his job because of his Christian faith.
Davood Rasooli, known among the believers as “David”, was also arrested on Friday by two plain-clothes officers on in front of his home in Karaj. He too was transferred to an unknown location. Informed sources, quoted by the Christian convert’s family, say that the officers returned to the house two hours later with Rasooli. They searched his home and confiscated some of his books and personal belongings.
MEC reported that Rasooli had planned to meet Ersali in Mashhad that same day. It’s believed that Iranian intelligence had intercepted their calls and learned of the arrangement.
Since the arrest of these two Christian converts there has been no contact with their family members. Mohabat news shared that no information is yet available on the cause of their detention or where they are kept. According to MEC, friends of Rasooli believe that he is in solitary confinement and undergoing interrogation in Rajai Shahr Prison.
Mohabat news shared that reports indicate Iran’s intelligent agencies have summoned and arrested a number of believers in the northern cities of the country. There are still no details on this issue, but it is said that some of them were released on their recognizance’s.
The Islamic Republic is under international pressures, and government officials are at an impasse, but they continue to harass religious and ethnic minorities without any understanding of their own conditions. It seems that there is a new wave of arrest and pressure against Christians.
The United Nations Human Rights Council has recently adopted a resolution indicating the increase in the number of executions, especially executions of criminals under the age of 18, violations of the right to freedom of expression and violations of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, repression of protesters and journalists, torture and ill-treatment in prisons, detention and the condemnation of dual nationality and the violation of women’s rights in Iran, and that the human rights situation has become worse in Iran. However, Iran’s President, Hassan Rowhani, has claimed that he intends to improve the situation of religious and ethnic minorities./FARSI
Where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were preserved in the midst of a blazing furnace fire in the presence of the Lord. A land where God saved Daniel when he sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions. Today, this same land has one of the fastest growing number of Christians in the world—second only to China. Please keep our Iranian brothers and sisters in your prayers.
Iran: An Armenian student, arrested in nationwide demonstration December 2017, faces charges of attempting to form warrior groups against the regime, promoting Christianity and anti-Islamic activities.
(Mohabat News) Karen Vartanian, born Tehran in 1994, is singular and 9th semester student of pharmacy at Arak University. He is one of the Armenian Christians and one of the detainees in the nationwide demonstration.
According to news sources, this student protester was arrested on December 30, 2017, and spent 17 days under the most severe physical and mental torture, so that he lost 15 kilos of weight during the deterrence.
“Karen Vartanian “was summoned to the Revolutionary Court two weeks ago. His trial was held on Tuesday, August 28, 2018, in the presence of him and his lawyer. In the court, he faces charges of insulting and disseminating lies, disturbing the public opinion, attempting to form warrior groups against the regime, promoting Christianity and anti-Islamic activities. Temporary detention was issued to him and the date of the main court was determined. Despite the protests of him and his attorney, they were informed that he would be transferred to the Fashafiyah prison until the trial date.
“Karen Vartanian” has congenital heart disease and had heart surgery in April 2018. Although his family and lawyer asked the judge to bail out due to his heart disease and threat of his life, the judge told them that the bail would not be issued to security detainees at the behest of the judiciary, even if the trial date is one year later.
According to a reliable source, “Karen Vartanian” was beaten by the prison authorities during the transfer from court to the detention center in front of her mother’s and sister’s eyes, and the agent of assassin said falsely to the people present at the site: “The accused has raped several daughters under 18 years old.
After two days of arrestment at a temporary detention center, the arrested student was transferred to the notorious Prison of Fashafiyah in Tehran on Thursday, August 30, 2018.
He suffered a heart attack at the Fashafiyah Prison and was transferred to Rajai Hospital on Sunday, September 2, 2018 with manacle and under guarded care with a plainclothes officer and a soldier. His family could see him only for a few minutes behind the glass, and this short meeting was enough to see the effects of beating on the face, eye and feet of their son. Despite the physician’s advice, that his 3-4-day rest was urgent due to surgery and his severe physical condition, prison authorities did not agree that his treatment continued at the hospital and returned him to prison after an outpatient treatment.
During the detention, Karen Vartanian only had short phone call with his family two times. This Christian family is very concerned about the life threatening and the situation of their son. Despite the continuous follow-up of the family, he was not allowed to visit the family and the judge did not specify the date of his trial./FARSI
Mohabat news_ On August 23, 2018, Amnesty International issued an appeal for urgent action to quash the sentences of the pastor “Victor Bet Tamraz” and his wife “Shamiram Isavi” and the Christian convert “Amin Afshar Naderi” and “Hadi Asghari”.
In the Amnesty International’s appeal, it was stressed that these sentences were issued only due to the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedoms of religion and belief, expression, and association, through their Christian faith.
Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram Issavi, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari, have been sentenced to a total of 45 years in prison on charges of acting against national security and spreading propaganda against the system through evangelism and the formation of house churches.
Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and Shamiram Issavi, ethnic Assyrian Christians, and Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari, Christian converts, have been sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison.
Holding Christmas gatherings, organizing and conducting house churches, and travelling outside Iran to attend Christian seminars, all of them are known as “illegal church activities” which “threaten national security”, and security agencies including Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence, and the Islamic Republic’s judiciary attach these activities to the case, and the judge will issue a verdict based on this attachment.
The four Christian citizens who are all currently free on high bails, are awaiting the verdict of the appeal court.
This case was opened due to the incidents occurred on 26 December 2014, when Victor Bet-Tamraz was arrested with Amin Afshar-Naderi and one other individual after plain-clothed security forces raided his home in Tehran during a private Christmas gathering. They were taken to Tehran’s Evin prison where they had no access to their lawyers and little contact with their families. They were released on bail several months later.
On 21 May 2017, they were put on trial with Hadi Asgari, who had been arrested in a separate incident on 26 August 2016 in the city of Firuzkuh, Tehran Province. In July 2017, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced each of them to 10 years in prison on the charge of “forming a group composed of more than two people with the purpose of disrupting national security” in relation to their church activities.
The same court sentenced Amin Afshar-Naderi to a further five years in prison for “insulting Islamic sanctities” for a comical Facebook post he shared from someone else’s account that adopted a Quranic writing style about the sharp rise in the price of chicken in Iran.
Hadi Asgari was released on bail in April 2018.
On 19 June 2017, Shamiram Issavi was summoned to the Office of the Prosecutor in Evin prison and charged with offences related to her practicing her Christian faith. In January 2018, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced her to five years in prison for “membership of a group with the purpose of disrupting national security” and another five years in prison for “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security.” / FARSI
Mohabat News– On August 23, 2018, Amnesty International appealed to urgent action to quash the sentences issued for the pastor “Victor Bet Tamraz” and his wife “Shamiram Isavi” and the Christian converts “Amin Afshar Naderi” and “Hadi Asghari”. These four Christians have been sentenced to a total of 45 years in prison.
In an interview with Manoto News, Kiarash Alipour, spokesman for the Article 18 organization, in answer to the question, how much such measures can reduce the pressure on Christians in Iran, says: “Despite the government propaganda, the Islamic Republic continues to violate the freedom and rights of religion and belief minorities, and the Christian community in Iran faces the organized and structural discrimination of the government. On the one hand, these measures will be effective in informing the Iranian people and, on the other hand, the international community in putting pressure on the Iranian government to respect the rights of its citizens, and for this reason, I appreciate the Amnesty International”.
He also stated: “Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution recognizes Zoroastrians, Christians and Jews as the only recognized religious minorities, and emphasizes that they are free to perform their religious ceremonies and that they are allowed to live according to their religion. Also, Article 23 of the Constitution states that inquisition is prohibited. The Charter of Citizenship Law, which was published with a lot of advertisings by the government of Hassan Rowhani, emphasizes on this matter, but these citizens were sentenced only due to the use of their own right namely freedom of religion and belief”.
In the answer to the question, why the pressure on Christians has increased recently, Alipour also says: “In the past few years, Christianity has grown dramatically in Iran, and in a religious government that is dominated by theocracy instead of democracy, converting people into other beliefs raises questions about the legitimacy of this system, and thus, such peaceful activities are considered as acts against national security”.
The spokesman for the Article 18 organization described the judicial process for Christian converts’ case as “very bad and unfair” and also said: “For example, these four Christians were under pressure over interrogations and had very short trials, and in general we saw cases that were unbelievable. Once a while they attacked on a Christian’s house, and seized the Christmas tree as instrument of crime and the carpet beneath it and Christian paintings including the Last Super which was also found in Iranian market”.
At the end, he pointed to the arbitrary detentions and a security approach to religious minorities, and said: “Heavy prison sentences, denial of education, pressure on families of overseas Christians, as well as exile, have been indicative of increased pressure on Christians in Iran./FARSI
“interrogations were obviously indicating that they were looking for the accused’s confession to communication with abroad, especially America, Britain and Israel.”
Mohabat News– the Christian convert, “Payam Kharaman”, has been sentenced to one year in prison on charge of propaganda activities against the system and in favor of Zionist Christianity through holding house meetings, evangelism, and invitation to Christianity and inclination to the land of Christianity. This Christian convert was among 12 citizens who were arrested in Bushehr (on Tuesday, April 7, 2015).
The cases of these 12 individuals with similar accusations have been under review until late April, 2018 while they were released on bail.
According to the verdict issued by Islamic Revolutionary Court of Bushehr headed by Judge Abbas Asgari, Payam Khoraman and 11 other individuals including “Shapour Jozi” and his wife, “Parastoo Zariftash” were sentenced to one year in prison, and they would be informed of the verdict on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.
The Christian convert, “Payam Kharaman” says to Mohabat News in detail about the case: on Tuesday, April 7, 2015, at around 8 A.M. – 8:30 A.M., 3 plain-clothed security agents came to the house, entered with a warrant, and rummaged throughout the house for 2 hours, and after inspection, seized computer case, mobile phone, flash memory, CDs, books and pamphlets and even private photo album, and transported me to the intelligence office of Bushehr near Bisim Avenue, and they started interrogating me from the first hours of my arrival in prison and continued until the evening of that day.
One of the special terms cited in the case of these 12 Christian converts is “inclination to the land of Christianity”, which is less common. Payam Khoraman says: interrogations were obviously indicating that they were looking for the accused’s confession to communication with abroad, especially America, Britain and Israel, and this term has originated from this matter.
He said: “the pressure and harassment of the security forces on me began in early 2012, and I was repeatedly summoned by the Office of Police Monitor Public Place in Bushehr and interrogated about evangelism and communication with abroad, and I always insisted on the belief in Christianity for myself and not for promotion of Christianity. Because I had a boutique shop in Bushehr, a number of officers’ family members in the office knew me and informed of heavy sentences against me, and the case which was under investigation by intelligence office. I thought it was just an empty threat, but unfortunately became a serious issue one or two years later.”
Advocacy director of Article 18, Mansour Borji introduced the charges attributed to these Christian converts and the process of judicial review on their cases “as example of inquisition and the violation of the freedom of religion and belief”, and he added: “Security agencies, following an ineffective policy in recent years, have tried to eliminate Farsi-speaking Christianity through unlawful pressures and false accusations in revolutionary courts and seemingly legal route.”
While corruption, theft and embezzlement of senior government officials and their relatives are the greatest problem in the country, and judicial systems infected with the corruption do not have the ability to fight against these problems, the harassment of religious minorities particularly Christians have been mandated for the Islamic Republic’s security apparatuses. Many Iranian Christians have preferred to abandon their homes in the last two decades and leave Iran to avoid the securities and judges. / FARSI
(Morning Star News) – Three Christians in Iran were arrested from their homes following the violent arrest of pastor Yousef Nadarkhani on Sunday (July 22), according to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
Pastor Nadarkhani, a convert from Islam like the others arrested, was awaiting a summons to begin a 10-year prison sentence after his appeal of a conviction for “propagating house churches” and promoting “Zionist Christianity” was upheld in May.
“Around 10 police officers arrived at the house and physically assaulted Yousef’s son when he opened the door to them,” MEC reported. “Both Yousef and his son were tasered, despite offering no resistance. The manner of their arrest was probably an attempt to intimidate the Christian community, but their friends report that the church has not given in to fear.”
Pastor Nadarkhani was sentenced on July 6, 2017, along with fellow converts from Islam Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Mohammadreza Omidi and Saheb Fadaie. Mossayebzadeh was arrested from his home today, and Omidi and Fadaie were arrested from their homes yesterday evening (July 24), according to MEC.
Pastor Nadarkhani ad Omidi were also sentenced to two years of internal exile, according to MEC.
“Both will serve this sentence in the south of Iran, far away from their families in Rasht,” the group reported in a press statement.
The three Christians arrested today and yesterday have been taken to Evin Prison in Tehran to join Pastor Nadarkhani, who has been put in a “quarantine” ward normally reserved as a form of punishment, according to MEC.
“Please pray that the Lord will comfort and strengthen those arrested and their families and that the Christian community in Iran will trust the Lord and not be intimidated,” MEC’s statement read, also requesting prayer that “Iranian authorities will treat converts and other religious minorities with respect, and that they and their families will not be wrongly and aggressively handled.”
The four Christians were arrested in Rasht on May 13, 2016 during a series of raids by security agents on Christian homes, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). They were sentenced by Judge Ahmadzadeh, head judge of the 26th Branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran, who is accused of miscarriages of justice and is subject to financial sanctions in the United Kingdom, according to CSW.
“Their appeal hearing on 13 December 2017 took place before Judge Hassan Babaee and Judge Ahmad Zargar, both of whom are alleged to have played prominent roles in the crackdown on freedom of expression in Iran,” CSW said in a press statement.
Judge Zargar, a Hojjatolislam (clerical position immediately below an ayatollah), was among several Iranian officials deemed responsible or complicit in serious human rights violations in 2012, according to CSW. He was also one of six judges accused in 2014 of lacking judicial impartiality and overseeing unjust trials of journalists, lawyers, political activists and members of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities, the group reported.
“The national security charges leveled against these men were spurious, and their sentences are excessive, amounting to a criminalization of Christian practice,” CSW Chief Operating Officer Scot Bower said in the press statement. “We are calling for the unconditional release of Pastor Nadarkhani, and for his sentence and those of Mr. Omidi, Mr. Mossayebzadeh and Mr. Fadaie to be quashed.”
Pastor Nardarkhani was also arrested in 2009 after going to his children’s school to question Islam’s exclusive place in religious education for children, which he said was unconstitutional. He was charged with apostasy and sentenced to death in 2010, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011.
On Sept. 8, 2012, he was released from prison following his acquittal on apostasy charges but was found guilty on charges of evangelizing. He returned to prison on Dec. 25, 2012 to complete a three-year sentence for evangelism and was released on Jan 7, 2013.
Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to change one’s religion and the freedom of religion. Furthermore, Article 23 of the Iranian Constitution states that “the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”
Iran ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.