Two church leaders from the Church of Iran denomination in the city of Rasht were released on bail on 21 September. The situation of a third leader remains unclear.
Morteza Mashhoudkari, Ahmad Sarparast and Ayoub Pourrezade were arrested on the evening of 5 September when secret police (MOIS) agents raided the house where they were meeting. They were taken to and held at an unknown location until Mr Mashhoudkari and Mr Sarparast were released on bail of 400 million Tomans (approximately GBP £69,400).
Christians in the northern city of Rasht have faced intense harassment at the hands of the Iranian authorities for several years. In February 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published an opinion that the continued detention of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, a Church of Iran leader from Rasht who was arrested alongside three others in 2018, is arbitrary.
Mohammadreza Omidi (Yuhan) and Deacon Saheb Fadaie, also from Rasht, received 80 lashes for drinking wine during a Communion service in October 2020 and November 2020 respectively. Mr Omidi is currently serving 21 months in internal exile, while Deacon Fadaie is serving a six-year sentence.
In September 2019, Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and eight other Christians from the Church of Iran in Rasht received five year sentences on charges of “endangering state security” and “promoting Zionism”.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “While we are relieved to learn that Morteza Mashhoudkari and Ahmad Sarparast have been released on bail, we maintain that they should never have been arrested in the first place. We call for the charges against both these men, and Ayoub Pourrezade, to be dismissed without condition, and urge the Iranian government to ensure that Mr Pourrezade is also released. We also continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of pastors Yousef Nadarkhani, Matthias Haghnejad, Deacon Fadaie, Mr Omidi, and of all others serving sentences following conviction on excessive charges, and to end the harassment, and even persecution of religious minority communities.”