Homayoun Zhaveh and his wife Sara Ahmadi were arrested for their membership of an Iranian “house church” in June 2019. Later convicted on national security grounds, they began their prison sentences of two and eight years, respectively, in August 2022.
Yesterday, however, an appeal court in the Iranian capital of Tehran acquitted the Christian couple. They were released the same day.
The appeal court judge ruled that there was nothing suspicious about the Christian activities of Homayoun and Sara. Gathering with other Christians was, said the judge, entirely “natural”. Having books about Christianity was merely “an extension of their beliefs”. There was “no evidence” that the couple posed a threat to national security.
“The reports by the officers of the Ministry of Intelligence about organisation of home-groups to promote Christianity, membership, and participation in home-groups, are not considered as acts against the country’s security, and the law has not recognised them as criminal activity,” added the judge.
The acquittal is wonderful news for Homayoun, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and Sara. It also has a wider significance.
Christians from Iran’s majority Farsi (Persian)-speaking majority are treated with much hostility as converts from Islam. Worship in Farsi is forbidden, as is any Christian evangelism. Farsi-speaking Christians are often charged with “acting against national security” for their activities in unofficial “house churches” – or what the judge in his ruling referred to as “home-groups”.
The judge, however, has ruled that membership of a “house church” – or even helping to run a “house church” – is not any threat to national security. In his opinion, “house church” activity is not criminal activity.
As well as giving thanks for the release of Homayoun and Sara, we must pray that this ruling will be a precedent that allows more Christians to be released and prevents others from being targeted by the authorities.