Two Iranian Christians at their final appeal hearing were ordered by a court to renounce their Christian faith to gain their freedom but they refused to do so.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide said the hearing took place on Tuesday in Tehran, where Christians Saheb Fadaie and Fatemeh Bakhteri were ordered by presiding judges Hassan Babaee and Ahmad Zargar to turn away from their religion.
The believers, who refused to comply, have been convicted of “spreading propaganda against the regime,” and are waiting to hear their final verdict. In September, Fadaie was sentenced to 18 months in prison, along with two years of internal exile, while Bakhteri was sentenced to one year in prison.
The Christians were arrested and convicted for discussing Christian doctrine in a house church, which was deemed to be an attack on Islam, the dominant religion in Iran.
Fadaie is already serving a 10-year prison sentence in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, convicted in July 2017 along with three other Christians “for acting against national security” by “promoting Zionist Christianity.”
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas argued that Fadaie's and Bakhteri's convictions were not only go against their right to religious freedom, but also “criminalizes the Christian faith, which the Iranian Constitution purports to recognize.”
“It is deeply concerning that Judges Babaee and Zargar are presiding over their appeal, especially in view of the unacceptable demand for them to renounce their faith; the rejection by these judges of a previous appeal involving Mr. Fadaie, and the allegations that both judges are implicated in human rights violations,” Thomas added.
The CSW head insisted that the two Christians deserve due process and to have their verdicts overturned.
“We also continue to urge the Iranian government to cease all forms of harassment and intimidation of peaceable religious communities, and to release all those detained in connection with their religion or belief,” he said.
In October, a ministry helping Iranian believers told The Christian Post that it was witnessing one of the "fastest growing underground church movements" in the world.
Mike Ansari, president of Heart4Iran Ministries, told CP that "the persecution of minorities has been a constant under the current Islamic regime in Iran. The Iranian converts to Christianity have been systematically arrested and persecuted as heretics."
He attested that the persecution is stemming from a "historic and organic growth of Christianity inside Iran, evidenced by one of the fastest growing underground church movements in the world."
The ministry leader revealed that most Christians who are arrested "are coerced to divulge information about their house-church activities and those of their friends, under the threat of criminal persecution, or arrest of family members."
In a follow-up interview with CP in November, Ansari said it's important to remember that the Church was strong in Iran even before the rise of Islam.
"Much of today's Islamic world, including Iran, was once Christian. The churches across Iran and Iraq were once great and enduring churches, which sent the first missionaries to China. Yet with [the] emergence of Islam, these communities were marginalized and at times completely destroyed," Ansari said ahead of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church that month.
"It seems there is an organic re-emergence of Christianity across Iran. God is on the move and building His Church. With growth comes persecution."