An Iranian court sentenced four practicing Christians to ten-year imprisonment July 7.
Iranian citizen Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, a recent convert, has been “found guilty in Iran along with three Azerbaijani Christians,” Christian Solidarity Worldwide-affiliated organization Article 18 Spokesman Mansour Borji said in an interview with Radio Farda.
The four individuals were accused of “actions against [Iran’s] national security”, “missionary activities”, “organic relations with Sweden’s ‘Word of Life’ Church”, “soft subversion activities against the Islamic Republic regime” and what the prosecutor called “Zionist Christianity”.
According to World Watch Monitor, the three Azerbaijanis – Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov – are unlikely to serve their sentences because they were allowed to leave Iran in November last year and will not be forced to return.
However, the Iranian – Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh, a convert from a Muslim background – remains in Iran and will have to serve his sentence unless successful with his appeal. “The Azeris will only serve their sentences if they return to Iran,” a local source explained.
“They will not be imprisoned in Azerbaijan for an alleged crime committed in another country,” added World Watch Monitor, citing Christian sources.
The Azerbaijanis, who are Baku residents, were detained on June 24, 2016 along several Iranian citizens while visiting Iran as guests of Iranian Christian groups.
Most of the detainees, after being interrogated, were released on bail.
“The charges against these Christians are legally unfounded and their conviction to ten-year imprisonment violates the obvious right of freedom of opinion,” Mansour Borji told Radio Farda. “So many Christians in Iran are accused of merely attending mass and prayer gatherings even in the privacy of their homes. They are all waiting for the Revolutionary Courts’ verdict against them.”
The London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide criticized the recent convictions and called on Iranian authorities to respect the four newly converted Christians.
A few Church leaders have been murdered and hundreds more have been either interrogated or incarcerated in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Publishing the Persian version of the Bible in Iran is forbidden. A number of churches have been forced to close down.
Last year, in a joint statement, 19 human rights organizations called on the international community to press Iran to end the persecution of newly converted Iranian Christians.
Meanwhile, according to Mr. Borji, in a similar case, an Iranian judge has sentenced Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, Amin Afshar Naderi, Kavian Fallah Mohammad and Hadi Asgari to 10 years and Amin Afshar Naderi to 15 years in prison for illegal "church activities".
Mansour Borji told Radio Farda that these four Christians have also been forbidden to leave Iran for two years.
“The verdict was pronounced by judge Ahmadzadeh, in a ‘revolutionary Court’ while the convicted Christians were not present,” Borji noted, adding, “Their attorney reiterated at the court that he will appeal against the verdict in before the legal deadline.”
The Revolutionary Court has accused Kavian Fallah Mohammadi and Amin Afshar Naderi of "action against national security", Article 18’s Website reported.
The other newly converted Christian, Hadi Asgari, has also been accused of "action against national security" through activities at "home churches".
Victor Bet-Tamraz led the Shahara Pentecostal Assyrian Church, in Tehran, before it was shut down by Iran’s Ministry of Interior in March 2009. He and Naderi were arrested alongside another convert on Boxing Day 2014. All three were charged with conducting illegal evangelism and kept mostly in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, before being released on bail in February and March 2015, Bos News Life reported Wednesday.
Naderi and Asgari, both converts from Islam, were charged with heresy for abandoning Islam. Naderi, who was sentenced to 15 years, was also charged with “acting against national security” while Asgari, sentenced to 10 years, was charged with “organizing and creating home churches.”