Armenian Christian given ten-year sentence in Iran for alleged evangelism

18 June 2024

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A Christian Armenian citizen has been given a ten-year prison sentence in Iran for supposed “proselytising”, a charge for which there was no significant evidence.

Hakop Gochumyan and his wife Elisa were arrested by intelligence agents during their holiday in Iran and they were accused of participation in “illegal Christian activities”.

Elisa was released on bail after two months of imprisonment, but Hakop remained in captivity. The ten-year sentence appears to stem from his possession of seven Farsi (Persian)-language New Testaments, visits to Armenian churches and a visit to a Farsi-speaking “house church”.

When there is a lack of evidence, Iran’s Islamic Penal Code allows judges to give sentences based on their “personal intuition”. This allowed the judge to sentence Hakop to ten years in prison despite minimal evidence of any criminal activity [Image credit: Article 18]

During their holiday in Iran in August 2023, Hakop and Elisa were arrested while they and their children were having dinner at a friend’s house. The house was raided by intelligence agents, who confiscated Christian books and arrested all the adults present in the house.

Hakop and Elisa were held at the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran where they are reported to have been placed in solitary confinement and subjected to intense psychological torture. The Christian couple was not informed of any official charges against them.

Elisa was eventually released on bail in October.

Hakop remained held in custody until his sentencing in February 2024 for “engaging in deviant proselytising activity that contradicts the sacred law of Islam” through “a network of evangelical Christianity”. The sentence was first reported in June after Hakop’s appeal failed.

There appears to be little evidence in support of the verdict against Hakop. At the appeal hearing his lawyer argued that the trial judge had instead invoked Article 160 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, allowing the judge to use his “personal intuition” in order to make a judgment.

While Iran’s historic Armenian and Assyrian Christian minority communities are allowed to practise their religion, evangelism among the Muslims and Farsi-speaking majority is forbidden.  

Please pray for Hakop and his family in this trying time: ask that God gives them strength and comfort. Pray that Hakop will remain strong in his faith and remember that God is always with him during his time in prison. Ask that more freedoms will be granted to Christians in Iran, and that all further trials will be just and evidence based.