Iran Four Christians to appear before Appeal Court

31 Aug 2017

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has been informed that the appeal hearing for Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi (Youhan), Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie will be heard by a judge accused of having overseen miscarriages of justice, and whose name appears on a list of Iranian individuals targeted for financial sanctions in the United Kingdom (UK).

In July 2017, the head judge of the 26th Branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran, Judge Ahmadzadeh, found the four Christians from the Church of Iran denomination guilty of ‘acting against national security’ by ‘promoting Zionist Christianity’, and sentenced them to 10 years imprisonment each. Pastor Nadarkhani and Mr Omidi also received additional two year sentences, to be served in an inhospitable area in the south of the country. 

Their appeal is expected to take place on 4 September and will be heard by Judge Ahmad Zargar, head of the 36th Branch of the Tehran Appeals Court. Judge Zargar, a Hojjatolislam, was amongst several Iranian officials deemed responsible or complicit in serious human rights violations in 2012, and was one of six judges accused in 2014 of having lost judicial impartiality and overseeing miscarriages of justice in trials involving journalists, lawyers, political activists and members of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities.  His name is currently on the “Consolidated List of Financial Sanctions Targets in the UK”, found on the FCO website. 

All four men were arrested on 13 May 2016, during a series of raids by security agents on Christian homes in Rasht, and charged with ‘acting against national security.’ Mr Mossayebzadeh, Mr Fadaie and Mr Omidi are also awaiting the outcome of their appeal against a sentence of 80 lashes each that was handed down in 2016, following their conviction for drinking wine during a communion service.

The period preceding and following President Rouhani’s re-election has seen a steep rise in the number of Christians being convicted on the basis of vaguely-defined national security-related crimes for which they receive unduly heavy sentences. Common charges include ‘acting against national security’, ‘insulting the sacred’ and ‘propaganda against the State’.

So far Judge Ahmadzadeh has sentenced at least 16 Christians to between five and 10 years imprisonment, with one receiving a 15-year sentence, according to records compiled by Article 18, an organisation that advocates on behalf of Iranian Christians.  Previously, the maximum sentence issued in such cases was five years, and when defendants received two five-year sentences, these were reduced to five years on appeal.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas, said: "The national security charges levelled against these men were spurious, and their sentences are excessive, amounting to a criminalisation of Christian practice.  We hope the appeal court judge will rule in accordance with the law and overturn the original verdict in the interests of justice; however we have grave concerns about the judge who has been selected to hear the case. We urge the Iranian government to ensure due process in this case, and call for an annulment of the conviction of Mr Omidi, Mr Mossayebzadeh and Mr Fadaie for drinking wine during a communion service, as this effectively penalises the observance of one of the most important Christian sacraments and violates the constitutional recognition of Christianity. The international community must press the Government of Iran to uphold this constitutional  obligation, and  to respect the right of its citizens to the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief, as outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is signatory.”

Notes to Editors:

      1.    A Hojjatolislam is the clerical position immediately below an Ayatollah

Take action