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Iran: Christian pastor begins serving 10-year prison sentence for holding church services in his home

The Iranian government targets converts to Christianity because it considers them to be apostates and thus threats to the foundation of the state.

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.”

For previous coverage of Iran, see here.

“Iranian-Armenian pastor begins 10-year prison sentence,” Article 18, August 30, 2022:

An Iranian-Armenian pastor has today begun serving a 10-year prison sentence for holding church services in his home.

Joseph Shahbazian, who is 58 years old, was yesterday given 24 hours to hand himself in to the authorities at Tehran’s Evin Prison, and did so today at around midday, Iranian time.

Meanwhile, a Christian convert sentenced to six years in prison for her involvement in Joseph’s “house-church” was given a stay of execution, because she is still recovering from a broken leg.

Mina Khajavi, who is 59 years old, also received a summons to prison yesterday, but was today told by the prison authorities that she could return home until she has recovered.

Mina’s leg was broken in three places as a result of a recent car accident, and she was only released from her cast two days ago. The authorities at Evin told her that a government-certified doctor must now review her medical records and confirm her condition, upon which she may be given up to six weeks’ recovery time before being required to serve her sentence.

Two other Christian converts, mother and daughter Masoumeh Ghasemi and Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh, were also summoned yesterday to pay within 24 hours fines of 24 million ($950) and 40 million ($1,275) tomans, respectively.

Masoumeh and Sonya had also been handed prison sentences of one year and four years, respectively, but were permitted by the judge to pay fines instead.

The same was true for two other converts in the case, Farhad Khazaee and Salar Eshraghi Moghadam, who again were sentenced to one year and four years, respectively, but permitted to pay fines instead.

Article18 understands that the seventh Christian in the case, 48-year-old convert Malihe Nazari, is also now in Evin Prison, serving her six-year prison sentence.

The seven Christians in the case were among at least 35 Christians arrested or interrogated by intelligence agents belonging to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in a coordinated operation over two days and across three cities in the summer of 2020….

In Iran, while Christians are one of three officially recognised religious minorities, converts are not recognised as Christians and are not permitted to attend the churches of the “recognised” Christians of Armenian and Assyrian descent – Christians like Joseph and Anooshavan, who themselves are not permitted to proselytise.

At the same time, Iran is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which enshrines freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion and to share it with others.

However, in reality, there is no such freedom, as seen clearly in the above-mentioned cases, which all relate to Christians worshipping together in their homes because Persian-speaking Christians have no place to worship, as highlighted in the Place2Worship campaign….

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