Iranian court upholds prison sentences of two Christian converts

A prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison.Reuters

A court in Iran has upheld the prison sentences of two Christian converts involved in house churches.  

Saheb Fadaie was sentenced to 18 months in prison and Fatemeh Bakhteri to 12 months last September after being found guilty of "spreading propaganda against the regime".  In delivering the sentence, the court equated discussions of Christian doctrine in house churches to an attack on Islam, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

In addition to a prison sentence, Mr Fadaie was also given two years in internal exile in Nehbandan, a remote area close to the border with Afghanistan.

The pair, who were both active in house churches, lodged an appeal against the decision and at a hearing in January were asked to renounce their faith.  Both refused, CSW reports. 

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said the decision to uphold their sentences was a "grave violation" of Iran's constitutional and international legal obligations, and "illustrative of the heightened campaign of repression that has seen Christians receiving excessive charges and sentences merely for manifesting their religion in private and in community with others". 

"Many more are being punished for adopting a religion of their choice, which is protected under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party," he said.

"Moreover, the effective designation of Christian doctrine as an attack on Islam amounts to the criminalisation of the Christian faith." 

Mr Thomas called for the prison sentences to be overturned.

"CSW urges the Iranian authorities to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Saheb Fadaie, Fatemeh Bakhteri, and all who have been arrested or imprisoned unjustly, and to end the harassment of peaceable religious communities," he said. 

Mr Fadaie is already serving 10 years in Evin prison, Tehran, for "acting against national security" by "promoting Zionist Christianity".

He was sentenced in July 2017 after being arrested alongside other members of the Church of Iran denomination to which he belongs. 

The arrests occurred during a series of raids by security agents on Christian homes in the city of Rasht in May 2016.  Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and two other Christians, Mohammadreza Omidi and Yasser Mossayebzadeh, were rounded up alongside Mr Fadaie. 

They appealed their sentences last year but lost. 

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has already spent time behind bars for his faith. In 2010, he was sentenced to death for apostasy by the Revolutionary Tribunal before being acquitted two years later after Iran came under pressure from the international community.