The first Christians to be punished under a recently amended law in Iran aimed at stopping the growth of Christianity and other religious groups were sentenced to five years in prison for disseminating “propaganda” against Islam after refused to renounce Christ, sources said.
Amin Khaki, Milad Goudarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi, all converts from Islam, were sentenced under article 500 of the recently amended Iranian penal code, which states that “any deviant education or propaganda which contradicts or interferes with the sacred Sharia [Islamic law] will be severely punished.
Members of the Church of Iran, the three men were informed on June 26 that they had each been given the maximum prison sentence allowed under the amended section and also fined 40 million tomans (US $ 1,600). Another church member, Hamet Ashouri, was informed the same day that his appeal for a 10-month prison sentence for “propaganda against the regime” had been rejected. Ashouri is also a convert from Islam.
The three men have 20 days to appeal their verdict. Ashouri had 10 days to report to Karaj Central Prison to begin his sentence.
With the increase in prison sentences, the law allows the state to tremove certain fundamental rights, such as voting, up to 15 years. Religious freedom activists have warned that the amendment, which was first proposed in 2020 and passed by parliament on January 13, could be used to attack religious dissidents and minority groups. The amendment was promulgated by then President Hassan Rouhani on February 18 and entered into force on March 5.
An analyst from the Middle East Concern (MEC) advocacy group said the sentence is the first sign of how the newly amended penal code can be used.
“We are still waiting to see how the amendments will be implemented, and now we have the first indication with the sentences of Amin, Milad and Alireza,” said the analyst, who requested anonymity. “Of course, it is up to the prosecutor, who is influenced by the Iranian intelligence services, to decide whether the charges are propaganda (article 500) or actions against the Islamic State (articles 498, 499). What we can say is that a person convicted under section 500 now faces a maximum prison sentence of five years instead of the typical six-month tenure that many Christians previously received. “
the recent election of Ebrahim Raisi, Chief Justice of Iran, as President, “seems to indicate that Iran will continue to take a hard line when it comes to defending Islamic values,” the analyst said. “His story suggests that we shouldn’t expect to see moderation or tolerance shown towards anyone who ‘deviates’ from revolutionary Islamic goals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that converted Christians will be a primary focus of correction. The amendments to Articles 499 and 500 were made under his leadership as head of the judiciary, of course. “
On November 11, 2020, Iranian intelligence agents in Fardis searched the homes of the three Christians and those of other unidentified converts. No one was arrested during the raids, but the officers seized Bibles, cell phones and computers and ordered the group to stop all Christian activities.
Khaki, Goudarzi, Nourmohammadi and the other members of the Fardis Group stood firm and refused to stop pursuing their faith, and on May 5, the three Christians were charged under amended Article 500. They were each ordered to report to the police every week for six months and released on 250 million tomans (9,940) bail.
On June 21, the three men appeared before the 4th chamber of the Karaj Revolutionary Court to stand trial. the Judge Mehdi Zeinali denied them access to their lawyer, and the defendants had to represent themselves, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Zeinali claimed their lawyer had not been properly registered. The hearing lasted less than an hour.
The three Christians will appeal the decision, according to human rights groups following the case.
This is not the first time that the three members of the Fardis group have been imprisoned for their faith; all had served a prison sentence for “propaganda against the state”. Khaki, the latest to be released, was conditionally released on March 2, 2020 due to a COVID-19 outbreak in Karaj central prison. The levels of COVID-19 in the prison to which he and others have been ordered to return are not known to the public.
Ashouri was arrested in Karaj on February 23, 2019, and his home was raided by security agents who confiscated Bibles, Christian literature and a computer. He was detained for 12 days. Officials detained Ashouri in solitary confinement for 10 days. He was beaten and offered bribes to become an informant, which he refused, according to human rights group Article Eighteen.
Hamed was forced to undergo Islamic “re-education” but when he resigned after four sessions, charges were brought against him for “propaganda against the regime”. On March 7, Hamed was summoned to the Karaj Revolutionary Court to stand trial.
Iran was ranked eighth on the 2021 global watch list of the organization supporting Christians Open Doors from the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
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– First Christians Sentenced to Prison Under New Law in Iran