Iran: Seven Christians sentenced to total of 32 years in prison

June 12, 2022

The U.S. State Department has classified Iran as a “country of particular concern” for “having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” These violations of religious freedom often take the form of persecution of converts to Christianity, who are seen as threats to the state.

For previous coverage of Iran, see here.

“Seven Iranian Christians sentenced to total of 32 years in prison,” Article 18, June 7, 2022:

An Iranian-Armenian pastor has today been sentenced to 10 years in prison and two Christian women converts to six years for their leadership roles within house-churches.

The Iranian-Armenian, Joseph Shahbazian, also faces a two-year term in exile in a remote province in the southeast of Iran following his incarceration, and a two-year ban on travelling abroad or membership of any social or political group.

Joseph must also report to the offices of Iran’s intelligence service for two years after his release on an unspecified “seasonal basis”.

The four other Christian converts in the case – Salar Eshraghi MoghadamFarhad KhazaeeSomayeh (Sonya) Sadegh and her mother Masoumeh Ghasemi – were sentenced to between one and four years’ imprisonment for membership of house-churches, but permitted to pay fines (equivalent to between $800-$1,250 each) instead of going to prison.

However, there was no such clemency for Joseph, who is 58 years old, nor for the two other converts, Mina Khajavi, who is 59, and Malihe Nazari, 48, who could not attend the court hearing on 29 May because she was visiting her son, who has leukaemia, in hospital.

Judge Iman Afshari, head of the 26th Branch of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, who is fast building a reputation for harsh sentences against Christians, was particularly scathing towards Joseph in his verdict, stating: “The papers of this case file indicate that this person, who considers himself an Armenian [an ethnic group recognised as Christian in Iran] and has travelled abroad several times and attended a gathering in Turkey, having established a group to attract Muslims, and under the cover of religious programmes for prayer, has propagated Evangelical Christianity, and with illegal activities and unfounded claims has abused people’s inner weaknesses and attracted some of them to the membership of his group.”

A growing reputation

Judge Afshari also recently handed down a 10-year sentence to another Iranian-Armenian Christian, Anooshavan Avedian, while he was also responsible for jailing another Christian woman convert, Fariba Dalir, who is now serving a two-year sentence.

Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which enshrines religious freedom, including the freedom to change and to propagate one’s faith. 

However, as exemplified in Judge Afshari’s latest verdict, the propagation of Evangelical Christianity is often construed as “propaganda” against the Islamic Republic, and therefore an “action against national security”….