Iranian Christians are encouraged that today (24 November) the high court in Tehran notified the lawyer representing nine Christian converts from Rasht that their five-year prison sentences were under review.
They were arrested in four separate raids during a one-month period in early 2019 and appeared in court on 24 July 2019 charged with acting against national security and promoting Zionist Christianity. Khalil Deghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, pastor Abdolreza (Matthias) Haghnejad, Kamal Naamanian, Mohammad Vafadar, Mohammad (Shahrooz) Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi and Behnam Akhlaghi were each sentenced to five years in prison.
Following a disagreement over a lawyer for the defence, Matthias, Shahrooz, Babak, Behnam and Mehdi were transferred to Evin prison while the others were allowed conditional release prior to an appeal hearing. In February 2020 the appeal court upheld the sentences, with none of the defendants or their lawyers present. Hossein, Khalil, Kamal, and Mohammed joined the others in Evin Prison on 2 June 2020.
On 17 August 2021 Matthias was transferred to Anzali, which is closer to his family. The other Christians are still detained in Evin Prison – more than a four-hour car journey for family visitors from Rasht, which violates their rights regarding family visits.
On 3 November 2021 (but announced on 24 November), the Supreme Court in Tehran ordered a review of their sentences on the basis that promoting Christianity and “Zionist evangelism” in private homes is not an example of “gathering and collusion against internal or external security” as decided in the original verdict. Additionally, this case is not considered to meet the definition of the establishment of groups aiming to disrupt national security as defined by Articles 499 and 500 of the penal code. Furthermore, according to this legal statement, promoting Christianity and establishing a house church are not considered crimes. A revolutionary court will conduct the review.
The court document indicates that the legal status of Christian converts in Iran is being reassessed by the judiciary. The result of the review could prove to be a very important precedent for similar cases.
Please pray that as a consequence of the review:
- The situation of the nine converts will be fairly assessed according to the criteria provided by the Supreme Court
- Members of house churches will no longer be subject to criminalisation or harassment from the state