Please pray: three Iranian Christians have been given prison sentences totalling 22 years for organising and establishing house churches – all while the Iranian government says it endorses freedom of religion.
In June and July 2020, seven Christian converts were among dozens arrested in a series of raids. Earlier this month, three of these believers – Joseph Shahbazian (58), Mina Khajavi (59) and Malihe Nazari (48) – were given prison sentences for taking a leading role in house church activities with ‘the intention of disturbing national security’.
Image: Malihe Nazari (left), Joseph Shahbazian and Mina Khajavi face a combined 22 years in prison
Joseph Shahbazian – an Iranian-Armenian pastor – was given a ten-year sentence followed by a two-year exile in a remote part of Iran. After his release, he will not be allowed to travel abroad or become a member of a social or political group, and he will be required to report regularly to Iran’s intelligence service for two years. The two women were given six-year sentences.
The other four converts – also received prison sentences but were instead allowed to pay fines (approximately between £650 and £1,000). They all now have criminal records which will impact future opportunities such as employment.
According to Article 18 (an organisation promoting and defending religious freedom), the judge who presided over the case, Iman Afshari, is ‘fast building a reputation for harsh sentences against Christians’. In April, he sentenced Fariba Dalir, another woman convert, to two-years imprisonment for ‘acting against national security’ by establishing and leading a church.
News of these verdicts come as the Iranian government – in response to a UN report about its human rights track record – maintains that its citizens enjoy freedom of religion.
“No one is prosecuted in Iran for merely holding an opinion or belonging to a particular class or group,” it said in a statement published by Iranian news agency Tasnim. “Staging gatherings and rallies and attending assemblies is an undeniable right of citizens, which has been recognized in Article 27 of the Constitution and other regulations.”
The news is yet another setback following the positive developments earlier this year with the acquittal of nine prisoners who were imprisoned for their faith. It reinforces the unpredictable nature of justice in Iran and why Christians who continue to gather secretly do so knowing that it could land them in prison. Please continue to pray for our Iranian family who are following Jesus no matter the cost.
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