Iranian Christians request prayer after Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad received a three-year prison sentence for “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs.”
Ismaeil (65) was arrested in Shiraz on 25 January 2019 and charged initially with “propaganda against the state and insulting the sacred Iranian establishment.” At a hearing on 22 October, the judge further accused Ismaeil of apostasy and increased bail demands from 10 million to 100 million tomans (US$9000). Friends provided pledges to cover the bail demands.
There were further hearings in November (when the apostasy charge was dropped), December and January. At the most recent hearing on 8 January at Branch 105 of the Civil Court in Shiraz, a new judge repeated many of the questions that had been asked previously, focusing on the charge of “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs in cyberspace.” This was because Ismaeil had forwarded a message sent to his phone that was deemed to be insulting to the ruling Iranian clerics.
Found guilty, Ismaeil was sentenced to three years in prison under Article 513 of the Islamic Penal Code, which allows for a punishment of between one and five years in prison. According to Mansour Borji of Article18, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) seeking to promote and increase awareness of the right to religious freedom among Iranians, the sentence was: “a disproportionate reaction to something so ordinary. The other charges that Ismaeil is facing, as well as the quashed charge of apostasy, (are) related to his conversion to Christianity. This may reveal the real reason why he’s been charged with something that most ordinary Iranians do on a daily basis.”
Ismaeil is appealing the sentence, but still faces two other charges: “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and “membership of a group hostile to the regime.”
Iranian Christians are disappointed at the harshness of a sentence that is clearly directed against Ismaeil’s Christian faith and request prayer that:
- God will strengthen and encourage Ismaeil during the judicial proceedings and enable him and his lawyer to make a strong defence
- The three-year prison sentence will be successfully appealed
- The charges of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and “membership of a group hostile to the regime” will be dropped
- Iranian authorities will uphold the rights of religious minorities and that Christian converts will not be persecuted