Iranian Court Sets High Bail for 3 Imprisoned Christians to 'Cripple' Church Economically, Says Activist

Iran President Hassan Rouhani (L) exchanges gifts with Pope Francis at the Vatican, January 26, 2016.
Iran President Hassan Rouhani (L) exchanges gifts with Pope Francis at the Vatican, January 26, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Andrew Medichini/Pool)

Three Christians from the Church of Iran denomination, who were arrested as part of a series of raids on house churches and believers in the Shia nation two weeks ago, will be released on bail only if they pay $33,000 each, a court in Rasht city says.

The three Christians – Yasser Mosayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie and Mohammadreza Omidi (Youhan) – are being held in a jail in Rasht, the capital city of Gilan Province, pending payment of 100 million Toman, which is equivalent to about $33,000, each, according to the U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which has been following their case since they were arrested on May 13.

The three Christians 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.

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Pastor Nadarkhani and his wife were later released.

"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," Firouz Khanjani, a member of the National Council of the Church of Iran, was quoted as saying.

"Unfortunately the authorities appear to be resorting once again to a tried and tested policy of demanding excessive bail designed primarily to cripple members of the Christian community economically and to delay the release of detainees," Mervyn Thomas, CSW's Chief Executive, said. "By setting such exorbitant bail amounts without proffering substantiating charges the Iranian authorities merely seek to punish these men."

The three church members were briefly arrested after similar raids last February.

Youhan was earlier also detained in December 2012. And in 2013, he was one of four Christians sentenced to 80 lashes each after they were charged with "drinking alcohol" during a communion service and possessing a receiver and satellite antenna.

Pastor Nadarkhani, who was acquitted of apostasy in 2012 after being sentenced to death by hanging, was earlier released from prison in September 2013 after he was acquitted of leaving Islam by a court in Rasht. The court, however, sentenced him to three years for evangelizing Muslims. But since he had been in jail for three years, he was released after posting bail.

He was re-arrested on the Christmas Day 2013 on the orders of prison authorities, and released a few days later, on Jan. 7, 2014.

The pastor was initially arrested in October 2009 from Rasht for allegedly protesting Islamic instruction in schools for his children, and after he sought to register his church. He was convicted of apostasy in November 2010 and was sentenced to death by hanging. However, the Supreme Court of Iran asked for the retrial of his case by a lower court in Rasht.

In June 2010, authorities also arrested his wife to pressure him to convert to Islam. Nadarkhani and his wife were also threatened that their children would be taken away and given to a Muslim family, but they remained firm. Pasandide was later released.

During the hearings held in September 2011, Nadarkhani was told by authorities that he would be given three opportunities to embrace Islam and renounce his faith in Christianity to have the charges removed. But he refused to do so.

Following Nadarkhani's release, his legal counsel, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, a prominent human rights lawyer, was jailed for 10 years and disbarred in September 2012 for "actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime" and keeping banned books in his home. He was also banned from practicing or teaching law for 10 years. He was later released on stringent conditions.

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