Iranian Christians are encouraged that the Tehran Court of Appeal has reduced the 10-year prison sentence against Armenian Iranian Joseph Shahbazian for “acting against national security through promoting Zionist Christianity” to two years’ imprisonment, but regret that the court failed to acquit him.
Joseph was among nearly 40 arrested as part of a coordinated raid by Iranian intelligence agents on house churches in Tehran, Karaj and Malayer in June and July 2020.
In June 2022 Joseph was sentenced to 10 years in prison. An Appeal Court upheld the decision in August 2022, after which Joseph was summoned to Evin Prison to begin serving the sentence.
Later, the Supreme Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate inconclusively that Joseph had led a house church. A retrial took place at the Appeal Court on 24 May, 2023.
The Appeal Court upheld the conviction under Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code regarding establishment of a group that endangers national security, but reduced the prison sentence and withdrew a supplementary sentence of two years in internal exile. Other supplementary punishments remain – a two-year ban on membership of political or social groups and a two-year ban on foreign travel.
Mansour Borji, advocacy director at Article 18, said: “It is great that both the Supreme and Appeal Court have acknowledged the unmerited and cruel maximum punishment that was handed down to Mr Shahbazian. However, it is disappointing that they have failed to recognise and uphold his rights as a citizen to worship peacefully and freely without the fear of cohesion and prosecution. Joseph has not done anything illegal to deserve two years in prison.”
Iranian Christians are thankful Joseph’s sentence has been reduced and request prayer that:
- Joseph will be encouraged by the court decision and soon released from prison
- The Iranian authorities will recognise that gathering for worship is a right for all citizens, including Christians and Christian converts