Iranian authorities deny early release for Christian convert imprisoned for reading the Bible

Christians in Iran.
Christians in Iran. | Reuters/Raheb Homavandi

An Iranian convert to Christianity who has served over one-third of a 10-year prison sentence for reading the Bible and allegedly taking part in missionary activities was told that his plea for early release has been denied.

The Tehran prosecutor’s office informed Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh through a handwritten letter last month that his request for release wasn’t approved, Article 18 reported, adding that no explanation was given to the convert.

Nasser, who will turn 60 in August, had been assured several times by prison authorities in recent months that his request would be accepted. He is eligible for parole as he has served over one-third of his sentence for “actions against national security” because of his membership in a Tehran house church.

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The convert was hoping to be reunited with his elderly mother, for whom he was the primary caregiver before he was arrested on June 24, 2016, while he was attending a Christian gathering.

After a few months of interrogation by government officials, Nasser was convicted in May 2017 on charges of “acting against national security through the formation and establishment of an illegal church organization in his home,” according to the Jubilee Campaign.

He has been in the notorious Evin Prison since January 2018 and had appealed his detainment and conviction, which was rejected.

Nasser has written open letters to the Iranian authorities, questioning his conviction.

“Would it even be possible for a committed Christian — who was born and raised in Iran and whose forefathers lived in this land for thousands of years, and who is a servant to the God who has called him to a ministry of reconciliation — to act against the national security of his own country?” he wrote in August 2018, according to World Watch Monitor.

“As the charges against me in my indictment states: ‘Action against national security through establishment of house churches,’ is the fellowship of a few Christian brothers and sisters in someone’s home, singing worship songs, reading the Bible and worshiping God acting against national security?” he continued.

“Isn’t it a clear violation of civil and human rights, and an absolute injustice, to receive [a] 10-year prison sentence just for organizing ‘house churches,’ which is a sanctuary sanctified as a place to praise and worship God due to closure of churches in Iran?”

The Iranian government uses Articles 489, 499 and 500 of the country’s Penal Code to prosecute Christians for their peaceful religious activities. The country has consistently been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for egregious violations of religious freedom.

Christians in Iran witnessed an unprecedented wave of raids on “house churches” toward the end of 2018, when more than 100 Christians were arrested, according to Article 18. Most of them were released after a few hours after they wrote down details of their Christian activities and were ordered to have no more contact with other Christians.

Last January, a 21-year-old Iranian Christian convert, Fatemeh Mohammadi, who prefers to go by the name “Mary” since her spiritual conversion, was arrested during an anti-government protest in Tehran.

The Human Rights Activists News Agency reported that Mary was detained near Azadi Square in Tehran, where protests occurred after the Iranian military shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane and killed 176 people. She published a series of tweets on the day she was arrested, saying that the Iranian people faced “soft repression” in Iran as the regime creates “false beliefs through selective coverage of the news.”

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