An appeals court in Iran has ruled that an adopted daughter with health problems must be taken away from her parents because of convictions related to their participation in a house church in southwestern Iran, watchdog groups have reported.
Article 18, a London-based nonprofit that exposes abuses against Christians in Muslim-majority Iran, reports that an appeals court panel in the city of Bushehr upheld on Tuesday a July 19 ruling against Christian converts Sam Khosravi and his wife, Maryam Falahi. The court found that they are “not fit” to be their adopted daughter, Lydia’s, parents.
According to the nonprofit, the initial ruling came even though Judge Muhammad Hassan Dashti acknowledged that the nearly 2-year-old child felt an “intense emotional attachment” to her adoptive parents and that she may spend “the rest of her life” in state care because of her severe health problems related to her heart and stomach.
An Article 18 spokesperson told The Christian Post that Lydia remains in her parents' custody. However, Iran’s child welfare agency will look to remove the child when it is made aware of the couple's failed appeal.
Advocacy Director Mansour Borji said in a statement that the July verdict against the parents “clearly demonstrates” an unwillingness from the judge to hand down the sentence.
Borji contends that Judge Dashti was “coerced by the representative of the Ministry of Intelligence.” He added that it is a “clear example of the lack of independence of the judiciary in cases involving Christians.”
“Condemning these people to prison because of their possession of Bibles and Christian symbols is a clear demonstration that Iran’s foreign minister and others aren’t telling the truth when they say that ‘no-one is put in prison in Iran simply because of their beliefs,’” he stated.
The advocacy group stated that the only reason why the verdict was issued against the parents is because of their identity as Christian converts and the fact that Lydia is considered by law to be a Muslim.
Dashti reportedly stated the child should never have been placed in their care.
Last week, the appellate court judges issued a short ruling, stating that they do see any “specific or reasonable evidence” to overturn the verdict.
“The decision is a crushing blow to Sam and Maryam, for whom Lydia fulfilled a long-held dream, having been unable to have a child of their own,” the Article 18 report explains.
The couple has been married for over 13 years and was never able to have a child of their own. Falahi has worked as a nurse for over 20 years, while Khosravi works in the hospitality sector.
The couple was among a group of seven Christians who were given sentences ranging from prison to work restrictions in June. Khosravi was sentenced to serve one year in prison and two years of exile from the city for the alleged crime of engaging in “propaganda against the state” related to his membership in a house church.
Both Falahi and Khosravi have been banned from gaining employment in their professional fields. The couple has appealed their criminal convictions.
According to Article 18, Khosravi’s brother, Sasan, and his wife, Marjan, also received similar sentences along with three other Christian converts.
“These people have done nothing that could be construed as ‘propaganda against the state’ or ‘acting against national security,’ but nevertheless they have been treated so unjustly,” Borji stated. “The international community must hold Iran to account for this miscarriage of justice, and many others like it.”
Iran’s theocratic regime has long been criticized by international human rights activists for its treatment of Christians and other religious minorities. Governed by Islamic law, Iran ranks as the ninth worst country in the world for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.
Iran not only prohibits church services in the predominant language of Farsi but also bans Muslims from leaving Islam. Thus, crackdowns against Christian converts are severe. Christians can face arrest just for attending underground church services.
During the 2020 reporting period — Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2019 — Open Doors reports that at least 169 Christians were arrested in Iran.