Any day now, four Iranian Christians could receive a phone call.
They will be told to report to the prison gate in their home city of Rasht. And once inside they will begin ten-year sentences for nothing more than exercising their faith.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, and fellow Church of Iran members Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie and Mohammad Reza Omidi have all been convicted of running house churches and ‘promoting Zionist Christianity’.
They appealed against their sentences to Iran’s notorious Revolutionary Court in December last year. Sadly they lost their appeal, and now, according to the London-based advocacy organisation Article 18, they could receive a call any time to report to the prison.
Nadarkhani and Omidi were also sentenced to an additional two years’ internal exile. They will serve it in the south of Iran, on the opposite side of the country from their homes.
Iran is number 10 on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List, our annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the worst persecution.
The appeal was heard by Judge Hassan Babaee, who, according to Article 18, ‘doesn’t have a good track record in dealing with Christians arrested for their Christian activities’. In any case, Revolutionary Court judges are hardly independent: the sentences are dictated by intelligence officials.
The same judge recently heard the appeals of four other Christians who have received lengthy sentences. Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz was sentenced to ten years in jail for ‘acting against national security by organising and conducting house churches’. Three converts in his church – Amin Afshar Naderi, Kaviyan Fallah Mohammadi and Hadi Asgari – were also given ten years, though Amin Afshar-Naderi was given an additional five years for ‘insulting the sacred’ (blasphemy).
The family of Pastor Bet-Tamraz is already paying a high price for their faithfulness. His wife, Shamiram Isavi Khabizeh, was given a five-year sentence of her own in January, while their son, Ramil, is also facing charges.
“Iranian Christians are concerned about the unjust verdicts, ” said Mansour Borji, of Article 18. “We ask all Christians worldwide, and the key members of the international community, to join us in calling for these convictions to be overturned.”
'I thought everyone had forgotten about me'
The worrying trend is this: sentences for Christians in Iran are increasing.
“Whilst Christians have consistently been put in prison for their faith in Iran, in considerable numbers, the length of the sentences has seemed to have increased in the last year or so,” said Miles Windsor from Middle East Concern.
Iran’s constitution acknowledges Christians as one of the recognised religious minorities allowed to operate in the country ‘within the limits of the law’. But in reality things are very different: the government harasses and imprisons Christians and other religious minorities and the law does not allow Muslims to convert to Christianity – or even renounce their beliefs.
But your prayers and support can make a world of difference to our brothers and sisters in Iran, even in prison, where it seems that noone can reach them.
After four years’ imprisonment for 'violating national security', Iranian Christian Maryam Naghash Zargaran was released from Tehran’s Evin prison in August 2017. Open Doors held a worldwide letter-writing campaign for her during her time in prison. The video below shows, not only the price Christians pay for their faith in Iran, but the powerful effect of discovering that they are not forgotten.
- For all those imprisoned in Iran because of their faith
- For the families of the Christians who are awaiting appeal, and for those about to begin their sentences
- For the Iranian government to stop their oppression of minorities and to respect their obligations under international law.