A second hearing in the trial of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and three members of his church has been scheduled for 14 December.
Pastor Nadarkhani, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie and Mohammed Reza Omidi (Youhan) are charged with “action against national security”, for which the maximum sentence is five to six years in prison. The men were arrested on 13 May during a series of raids on Christian homes in Rasht by security service (VEVAK) agents.
In October, Mr Mossayebzadeh, Mr Fadaie and Mr Omidi were sentenced to 80 lashes each for drinking wine during a communion service. They have appealed against the sentence and a hearing at the 11th Branch of the Appeal Court has been scheduled for 9 February 2017.
The situation for Iranian Christians has deteriorated markedly, with a surge in harassment and arrests, and rising restrictions on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has been informed that the secret services in Shiraz have told prison officials to deny furlough to Mohammad Roghangir and Massoud Rezaie, who are serving six and five years respectively for ‘action against national security’ and ‘propaganda against the order of the system’. The crackdown is not confined to house church networks and their members; some government-recognised denominations face the prospect of having their property seized.
The government’s intensified campaign of harassment and repression is even being felt by some who have fled the country. CSW has also been informed that Fatemeh Torkkajouri, who was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to five years imprisonment for “action against national security”, is under severe pressure to return to Iran to serve the sentence. She was initially arrested on 18 July 2010 and imprisoned for two months during a period when her husband, Behrouz Khandjani, had been incarcerated for the second time, leaving their young daughter without her parents.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We are alarmed by the rising repression and the renewed targeting of Pastor Nadarkhani and members of his church. The spurious national security-related charges levelled against these men are illustrative of a continuing campaign by the authorities to penalise the Christian community for peaceably exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. We also reiterate that the criminalisation of a significant Christian sacrament should not be occurring in a country where the constitution not only recognises Christianity, but also states that no-one should be molested or taken to task on account of their belief. We call on the Iranian Government to ensure these men receive a fair hearing, and urge the dismissal of these charges. The international community must press Iran to ensure religious freedom for all of its citizens, and that its practices, legal procedures and provisions are in line with its constitutional and international commitments to uphold freedom of religion or belief, including the right to change belief, for every religious community.”