Tehran: July 13, 2017. Iranian Christians request prayer for Christian converts Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie, who have been given 10-year prison sentences for propagating house churches and promoting "Zionist Christianity".
Yousef and Mohammadreza have also been sentenced to 2 years' exile, Yousef in Nik Shahr and Mohammadreza in Borazjan - both of these locations are in the south of the country, far away from their families in Rasht.
The verdict was dated 24th June but was received by the lawyer for the four men on 6th July. The lawyer will appeal on their behalf, and the appeal must be lodged within 20 days of receipt of the verdict.
Yasser, Saheb and Mohammadreza were arrested on 13th May 2016 with their pastor, Yousef, as they were celebrating communion. Yasser, Saheb and Mohammadreza were also charged with consumption of alcohol because they drank communion wine, and on 10th September they were each sentenced to 80 lashes. Their appeal against the sentence of 80 lashes remains outstanding according to Middle East Concern
Meanwhile, Christian Solidarity Worldwide has learned that Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie have been sentenced to ten years in prison each for “acting against national security”. The verdict, which was dated 24 June, was received on 6 July.
The pastor and Mr Omidi were also given additional two years sentences to be served in an area the south of the country, which has an exceedingly hot and harsh environment. They have 20 days to appeal the sentence.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “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.”
On 14 June, the 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 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 13 May 2016, during a series of raids by security service (VEVAK) agents on Christian homes in Rasht. A ruling on their case was expected prior to Iranian New Year on 21 March 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.
The 6 July verdict is the latest in a series of excessive sentences passed by Judge Ahmadzadeh against Iranian Christians based on unfounded charges.
On 3 July, 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 26th December 2014 at a Christmas celebration at the pastor’s home in Tehran. They were both charged with “acting against national security by organising 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 23 May, 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 24 June 2016, and kept in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison for two months, where they were subjected to harsh interrogations before being charged.
Mervyn Thomas added, “We reiterate that the national security charges levelled in all of these cases amount to the criminalisation 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. 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.”