Iran Court Confirms 5-Year Prison Sentence for Christian Convert

(Photo: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)Prayer books are placed in the pockets of Saint Serkis church's benches before a New Year mass in central Tehran, Iran, December 31, 2010.

An appeals court has confirmed a five-year prison term for an Iranian Christian convert, who was arrested due to his faith though he was convicted falsely for "forming a group in order to disrupt national security," according to human rights groups.

Ebrahim Firouzi's five-year sentence, first handed down by Tehran's Revolutionary Court in 2015, was upheld by an appeals court, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which noted that Firouzi had pleaded not guilty before all courts.

Firouzi was arrested in August 2013 on the charge of "acting against national security," which Christians in Iran are often charged with, according to NCRI. He has been kept in Rajaei-Shahr prison in Karaj since his sentence was issued last year.

Firouzi's mother, who is disabled, had earlier called on officials to handle her son's case fairly and to release him.

"Crying as she delivered the message to the authorities, Firouzi's elderly mother said that she is visually impaired and there is nothing she can do and has no one to help her. She said she doesn't have the ability to go from court to court and follow up on her son's case," Mohabat News reported earlier.

"She added that she misses her son and because of her disability she has not been able to visit her son in prison. She pleaded with the authorities to release her son so he can come home."

Christians face severe persecution in the Shia Muslim country, including regular crackdowns and jail sentences due to their faith.

House churches are not permitted, and Christian converts are beaten and arrested for gathering to worship.

Last May, Firouz Khanjani, a member of the National Council of the Church of Iran, was quoted as saying, "With Iran re-entering the international fold we were hoping for improvements in human rights situation, but it is now clear that no improvement has taken place."

Khanjani said this after a court in Iran set a very high amount, $33,000 each, for the bail of three Christians from the Church of Iran denomination, who were arrested during a series of raids on house churches and believers at the time.

The three Christians — Yasser Mosayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie and Mohammadreza Omidi — were arrested along with their pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, and his wife, Tina Pasandide Nadarkhani, by officials from Iran's Ministry of Intelligence, known as VEVAK. The officials also seized Bibles, computers and mobile phones belonging to the three church members.