Iran Upholds 10-Year Prison Sentence for Pastor, 3 Other Christians for 'Zionist Christianity'

(Photo: American Center for Law and Justice)Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani with one of his two sons. Nadarkhani currently awaits his verdict as he remains imprisoned for apostasy in Iranian jail.

Four Christians facing 10-year prison sentences in Iran on the charges of promoting "Zionist Christianity" and acting against national security, including a pastor who was formerly sentenced to death, have had their sentences upheld.

Persecution watchdog group Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported on Wednesday that it has confirmation of the verdict by Iranian authorities delivered in Rasht last week.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi (Youhan), Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie, the four Christians who have now lost their appeals, were initially arrested in May 2016 after government agents carried out a number of raids on Christians' homes in the city.

Beside the 10-year prison sentences, also based on the conviction that their church received money from the British government, Nadarkhani and Omidi could face a further two-year imprisonment.

Omidi, Mossayebzadeh and Fadaie have also been sentenced to receive 80 lashes each for drinking wine during a communion service, though they have appealed.

"The charges leveled against these men are spurious and their sentences are excessive, amounting to a criminalization of Christian practice. We call for an annulment of these sentences," said CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.

"The international community must press the government of Iran to uphold its constitutional and international obligation to ensure the full enjoyment of the right to freedom religion or belief for all of its citizens, regardless of their creed."

Nadarkhani has been arrested and released on several occasions in the past, all connected to his practicing and preaching of the Christian faith.

Most notably he was released from prison in September 2013 after he was acquitted of apostasy, a conviction which originally had sentenced him to death.

The death sentence had been announced in November 2010, one year after the pastor was arrested for allegedly protesting Islamic instruction in schools for his children, and for seeking to register his church.

Other groups, including the New York-based Center for Human Rights In Iran, have also spoken out against the long-term prison sentences being handed down to followers of Christ in the Muslim-majority nation.

"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 in July 2017.

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

CHRI noted at the time that Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran had issued long prison sentences to at least 11 Christian converts and the former leader of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Iran in the space of two months.

Iran remains one of the most restrictive countries in the world for Christians and other religious minorities, with house churches not permitted and facing regular crackdowns.

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