Two Iranian Christians were sentenced to a
total of eight years in prison by a revolutionary court in December 2017, after
being convicted of national security-related crimes.
Suroush Saraie and Eskandar Rezaie, who are both
members of the Church of Iran denomination, each received seven year sentences
for ‘creating a group that works against national security’, and an additional
year for ‘propaganda against the state.’ Both men are appealing the
verdict, which was handed down on 28 December 2017 by the 4th
Chamber of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz.
During the same court hearing, a Christian woman named Zahra Norouzi Kashkouli was sentenced to a year in prison for ‘being a member of a group working against the system.’ She too is appealing the sentence.
Article 23 of the Iranian constitution states that ‘the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief’. Nevertheless, there has been a rise in arrests of members of minority faith communities since the advent of the Rouhani presidency, and Christians have routinely been charged with national security-related crimes in order to justify excessive sentences.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “These unwarranted sentences are yet another example of the unjust treatment of Iranian Christians, who are being criminalised on account of their faith. We call for these convictions to be overturned, and for the Iranian government to end its harassment of religious minorities. We urge the EU, the UK and the US to ensure that improvements in freedom of religion or belief and other human rights are a central part of any dialogues with the Iranian government.”
Mr Saraie and Mr Rezaie were initially arrested
on 12 October 2012, along with five other Christians, during a raid on a prayer meeting. They were later found guilty of ‘action against national security’ and ‘propaganda against the order of the system’, for which Mr Saraie received a two-and-a-half year sentence on 16 July 2013. His sentence was upheld on appeal and he was jailed in July 2014. Mr Rezaie was given a one year sentence, which he began serving in July 2015.
Mr Saraie was released early from Adelabad Prison in November 2015, and Mr Rezaie was released during the same month. However, Mr Saraie and Mr Rezaie were both rearrested in July 2017, and were returned to Adelabad Prison. They were released a few months later, after meeting bail payments of US$ 95,000 and US$ 140,000 respectively.