A 65-year-old Iranian Christian convert who was sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs” in January has been sentenced to two more years in prison while nine other converts lost appeals of their five-year sentences.
Article 18, a nonprofit Christian persecution watchdog group, reports that convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad was sentenced to the additional years on Feb. 27 for allegedly being a member of “a group hostile to the regime.”
He was accused of being a part of a group that espoused “evangelical Zionist Christianity.”
Under Article 499 of the Islamic Penal Code, being a member of a group that stands against the regime is punishable by three months to five years in prison.
According to Article 18 Advocacy Director Mansour Borji, Maghrebinejad is a member of an Anglican church.
Borji said that the government’s labeling of Maghrebinejad as an evangelical shows that “blanket labeling is inaccurately applied to any Christian arrested for their religious activities.
The director also pointed out that the judge in Maghrebinejad’s case based his ruling off of a military intelligence report, noting that it is “odd and somewhat rare” for the military to be involved in a civilian case.
“[T]he revolutionary courts try to justify their violations of religious freedom,” Borji said in a statement.
Maghrebinejad has just shy of three weeks to appeal the ruling.
Article 18 additionally reported that nine Christian converts sentenced to five years in prison last October for committing “actions against national security” lost their appeals on Feb. 25 even though none of the nine accused or their lawyers were permitted to attend the hearing.
The nine accused are Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoost, Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafada.
They were all arrested in a month between January and February 2019.
According to Article 18, five of the nine accused have been in Evin Prison since last July, while the other four have been out on bail since March 2019. But they are expected to be summoned soon to serve their sentences.
The five who have been in Evin Prison since July — Abdolreza, Shahrooz, Behnam, Babak and Mehdi — had their bail amounts increased tenfold by Judge Mohammed Moghisheh for insisting they be represented by their own lawyers, not court-appointed lawyers.
Last October, Maghrebinejad had his bail increased tenfold after he denied insulting Islam when asked whether he did so by a judge.
When asked if he was an apostate, Maghrebinejad reportedly denied being an apostate on grounds that ayatollahs have different opinions on the apostasy issue.
Iran ranks as the ninth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. According to the Christian persecution watchdog organization present in over 60 countries, Christians in Iran are banned from sharing their faith with non-Christians and from holding church services in Farsi.
One Iranian Christian recently said in a Family Research Council panel discussion that her family’s church was shut down in 2009 because her father refused to only preach to Assyrian-speaking members. Today, her brother, father and mother are all serving jail sentences in Iran.
“In 2019, at least five, six times [my parents] were told to go to the court for their court hearing only to go there and to hear that their case has been canceled or postponed for various reasons,” said Assyrian Christian Dabrina Bet Tamraz. “The latest [excuse] was the court was ‘too crowded.’ It’s been two-and-a-half years that my parents have been dealing with court cases and trials and hearings.”
Open Doors reported that at least 169 Christians in Iran were arrested during its 2020 World Watch List reporting period.