An Iranian pastor and four Christian converts from Islam have lost their appeals against jail terms and fines imposed because of their involvement in “house churches”.
The court of appeal ruled that the defence had failed to meet the necessary criteria for the appeals to be considered on behalf of Pastor Joseph Shahbazian and converts Mina Khajavi, Malihe Nazari, Masoumeh Ghasemi and Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh.
Pastor Shahbazian, 58, an Iranian-Armenian, was sentenced in June 2022 to ten years in jail, while converts Mina, 59, and Malihe, 48, were ordered to serve six years.
The 26th Revolutionary Court of Tehran also ruled that Pastor Shahbazian should face a two-year ban on travelling abroad and two years of internal exile when he is released.
Masoumeh and her daughter Somayeh were sentenced to jail, but permitted instead to pay fines of $1,100 to $1,751.
All five were convicted of “forming and operating illegal organisations with the aim of disrupting the security of the country”. The term “illegal organisations” refers to underground “house churches” attended by Muslim-background Christian converts who worship in the national language Farsi.
Pastor Shahbazian was found to have “established a group to attract Muslims, and under the cover of religious programmes for prayer” propagated Evangelical Christianity.
The five Christians were arrested by intelligence agents from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard following a coordinated operation across three Iranian cities in June 2020.
Lawyer Iman Soleimani, acting on behalf of the Christians, condemned the appeal court’s ruling. He said it had been reached “without an actual hearing, and with a complete disregard of the extensive and well-reasoned defence offered”.
Mr Soleimani added that the court proceedings showed a “disregard of absolute legal and juridical principles, such as the principles of equal opportunity [to dispute accusations], legality of crimes and punishments, and right to a defence”.
Two other converts sentenced at the same time as the five Christians, Farhad Khazaee and Eshraghi Moghadam, were not part of the appeal.