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11 Christian Converts Issued Long Prison Sentences in Iran in Less Than Two Months in Sham Trials

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11 Christian Converts Issued Long Prison Sentences in Iran in Less Than Two Months in Sham TrialsCHRI - Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh on Sentencing Spree Since June 2017

The Iranian authorities must immediately halt the disturbing trend of arrests and imprisonment of Christians, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said in a statement today.

In less than two months, since June 2017, Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran has issued long prison sentences to at least 11 Christian converts and the former leader of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Iran.

"Christians are recognized as an official religious minority in Iran's Constitution, but the state continues to persecute members of the faith, especially converts," said CHRI's executive director Hadi Ghaemi.

"The state must respect its own laws and international obligations and allow Christians and all religious minorities full freedom of worship," he said.

According to Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion."

The Islamic Republic views any alternative belief system, especially those seeking converts, as a threat to the prevailing Shia order.

On July 6, Ahmadzadeh sentenced four Protestant Christian converts to 10 years in prison each in a trial completely lacking due process, according to Mansour Borji, the advocacy director of Article 18, a London-based organization that defends Christians in Iran.

Yusif Farhadov, Eldar Gurbanov and Bahram Nasibov from Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Iranian national Nasser Navard Goltapeh were arrested by security forces at a reception hosted by their Christian friends in Andisheh on June 24, 2016.

No evidence was presented to show the defendants had acted against national security, Borji told CHRI, but the four were convicted of being "Zionist Christians" who "acted against national security with the intention of overthrowing the state in a soft war."

Ahmadzadeh had already convicted four other Christians of similarly trumped up charges two weeks earlier.

Charged with "assembly and collusion against national security" for organizing home churches and preaching "Zionist Christianity," Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, Mohammad Reza (Yasser) Omidi, Mohammad Ali Mosibzadeh and Zaman (John) Fadaei—all converts—were also sentenced to 10 years in prison each by Mashallah on June 24.

After serving his prison term, Nadarkhani will be exiled to Nikshahr, in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, for two years. Omidi will be exiled for two years to Borazjan, Bushehr Province, after the completion of his sentence.

The four, who were given 20 days to appeal, were arrested by Intelligence Ministry agents while performing Christian rituals at the home of a friend in Rasht, Gilan Province, on May 13, 2016.

On June 11, Victor Bet Tamraz, the former leader of Iran's Assyrian Pentecostal Church, and Christian converts Hadi Asgari and Kavian Fallah Mohammadi were sentenced by Mashallah to 10 years in prison each while convert Amin Afshar Naderi was issued a 15-year prison sentence.

They were also all previously arrested by Intelligence Ministry agents.

There are no recent official statistics available on the number of Christians in Iran, but 117,704 were counted in a 2011 state census. In 2010, the World Christian Database (WCD) recorded 270,057 Christians in Iran. Some Christian organizations argue the number is much higher.

According to Article 13 of the Constitution: "Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities, who, within the limits of the law, are free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education."

"No one in Iran is prosecuted for their beliefs unless they have committed a crime," said Kazem Gharibabadi, the assistant for international affairs at the judiciary's Islamic human rights division, on March 17, 2017.

However, the Christian community, particularly its convert community, faces systematic state persecution and discrimination due to its growth.

Despite President Hassan Rouhani's pledges during his election campaign in 2013 that "All ethnicities, all religions, even religious minorities, must feel justice," the targeting of Christian converts for state persecution and prosecution has continued unabated under his administration.

"Rouhani was recently reelected in large part because of his promises to improve civil and political rights in Iran," said Ghaemi. "Yet we're seeing an increasing number of arrests of religious minorities, as well as activists, by the Intelligence Ministry, which is supposed to operate under him."

"Rouhani must use all his authority to reign in the ministry and ensure it stops its trampling of citizens' rights," he added.