Excessive jail sentences for Iranian Christians
Christian Solidarity Worldwide has learned that Iranian Christians, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie, have been sentenced to 10 years in prison each for “acting against national security.”
The verdict, which was dated June 24, 2017 was received on July 6. Biblical Leadership reported on the four Christians’ court case on July 3.
Pastor Nadarkhani and Mr. Omidi were also given additional two years sentences to be served in an area the south of Iran, which has an exceedingly hot and harsh environment.
According to Christian human rights organization Middle East Concern, the four men have 20 days to appeal the sentences.
“Disappointed by excessive sentences”
“We are deeply disappointed by these excessive sentences, which are based on spurious charges and are clearly part of an intensified campaign of judicial harassment aimed at intimidating members of minority faiths,” CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said.
CSW is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
On June 14, 2017, the four men were summoned to the 26th Chamber of the Revolutionary Tribunal, where the presiding judge, Judge Ahmadzadeh, informed them they would receive a verdict within 20 days, and accused their church of receiving £500,000 ($644,400) per year from the British government. During the hearing, Judge Abolghasem Salavati, who heads the 15th Branch of the Revolutionary Court and is notorious for issuing harsh sentences, entered the court room and announced that “Christians make foolish claims.”
The four men were arrested on May 13, 2016, during a series of raids by security service (VEVAK) agents on Christian homes in the Iranian city of Rasht. A ruling on their case was expected prior to Iranian New Year on March 21, 2017. However, a decision to refer the case to judicial authorities in Tehran delayed the sentencing.
A ruling is still overdue for a decision on an appeal by Mr. Omidi, Mr Mossayebzadeh and Mr. Fadaie against a sentence of eighty lashes each for drinking wine during a Communion service.
Other excessive sentences
The July 6 verdict is the latest in a series of excessive sentences passed by Judge Ahmadzadeh against Iranian Christians based on unfounded charges.
On July 3, Judge Ahmadzadeh sentenced Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, Mr Hadi Asgari and Mr Kaviyan Fallah-Mohammadi to ten years in prison each, while Amin Afshar-Naderi was given a 15-year sentence, and all were banned from travelling for two years.
According to Iranian religious freedom organisation Article18, Mr Afshar-Naderi and Mr Fallah-Mohammadi were among several Christians arrested on December 26, 2014 at a Christmas celebration at the pastor’s home in Tehran. They were both charged with “acting against national security by organizing and conducting house-churches”, and Mr Afshar-Naderi was also charged with “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy).
In yet another case, during a hearing held on May 23, Judge Ahmadzadeh imposed 10 year sentences on Iranian national Nasser Navard Goltape, and Yusif Farhadov, Eldar Gurbanov and Bahram Nasibov from the Republic of Azerbaijan. They had been arrested on June 24, 2016, and kept in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison for two months, where they were subjected to harsh interrogations before being charged.
“We reiterate that the national security charges leveled in all of these cases amount to the criminalization of the Christian community for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, and that this is occurring despite the fact that the Iranian constitution recognises Christianity,” says CSW’s Mervyn Thomas. “We urge members of the international community to extend the sanctions still in place against Iranian individuals to include members of the judiciary who are implicated in ongoing and severe harassment and persecution of religious minority communities.”
Prayer request from Middle East Concern
Iranian Christians request prayer that:
• The appeal against the verdict will be successful, and the four men will be acquitted
• The sentence of 80 lashes will also be overturned
• The Revolutionary Court and judges will stop intimidating Christian converts, and will respect the right of all in Iran to freedom of religion
• All officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him.
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