A Christian pastor and six converts from Islam have been sentenced to jail for their involvement with illegal house churches in Iran.
The seven believers were arrested in June and convicted of “forming an operating illegal organisations [house churches] with the aim of disrupting the security of the country.”
Pastor Joseph Shahbazian was sentenced in June to ten years in prison, while converts Mina Khajavi and Malihe Nazari, were ordered to serve six years of jail time.
Mother and daughter, Masoumeh Ghasemi and Somayeh Sadegh were also sentenced to jail, but were allowed to instead pay fines of 24 million ($950 US) and 40 million ($1,275 US) tomans respectively.
Salar Eshraghi Moghadam was sentenced to four years in prison, while Farhad Khazaee was sentenced to twelve months jail time.
Pastor Shahbazian was found by the court to have “established a group to attract Muslims, and under the cover of religious programmes for prayer” propagated Evangelical Christianity.
Five of the prisoners appealed the ruling, only to have it rejected by the judges of the 36th Branch of the Appeal Court of Tehran for allegedly failing to “meet the necessary criteria for the appeal to be considered.”
Iman Soleimani, the lawyer representing the group told Article 18, a non-profit organisation that advocates for persecuted Iranian Christians, that the judgement had been reached “without an actual hearing, and with a complete disregard of the extensive and well-reasoned defence offered.”
According to Soleimani, the court proceedings showed a “disregard of absolute legal and juridical principles, such as the principles of equal opportunity [to dispute accusations] legality of crimes and punishments, and right to defence.”
Mansour Borji, Article 18’s advocacy director, said this is common practice in cases of prisoners of conscience.
“The Islamic Republic does not want to officially own the unlawful decisions they have taken, for fear of social and political backlash,” he said.
Borji went on to say, “This clearly displays Iran’s sense of impunity, as the international community continues to stand by and watch Iran’s blatant disregard of human rights.”