An Iranian Christian convert, who is serving a six-year prison sentence, has received 80 lashes for drinking communion wine. He is the second convert to receive such a punishment in just over a month.
Article 18, a London-based nonprofit that exposes abuses against Christians in Muslim-majority Iran, reports that Zaman Fadaee (who goes by the name Saheb) was flogged on Sunday in connection to a 2016 conviction for drinking wine as part of communion.
In Iran, it is illegal for Muslims to drink alcohol but the practice is permitted for religious minorities. However, advocates warn that Iran does not recognize former Muslim converts as Christian.
Fadaee, a member of the Church of Iran, was arrested along with Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and four other members of Nadarkhani’s Rasht-based church in May 2016. In September 2016, converts Fadaee, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Youhan Omidi were sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking communion wine by a court in Rasht.
On Oct. 14, Omidi received his 80 lashes about a month after he began a two-year term in exile in the city of Borazjan, about a 15-hour drive from his home in Rasht.
Fadaee is serving a six-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison for the charge of organizing house churches and “promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity,” according to Article 18.
The converts were each initially given 10-year prison sentences in 2017, which they began serving in 2018. But during a retrial earlier this year, their sentences were reduced.
While Fadaee and Nadarkhani’s sentences were reduced to six years in prison with two years of internal exile, Omidi’s sentence was reduced to two years. He was released from prison in August and began his two years of internal exile a month later.
Mossayebzadeh was also sentenced to 80 lashes. But Article 18 reports that he has not been summoned yet to receive the lashes.
“It had been assumed that both Saheb and Yasser would be flogged after their release from prison, as happened in Youhan’s case,” the Article 18 report states. “However, Saheb was summoned to the Shahid Moghadas Revolutionary Court next to Evin Prison yesterday, and told his sentence must be carried out then and there.”
News of Fadaee’s flogging was condemned by State Department official Gabriel Noronha.
“Now hearing from @articleeighteen that another Iranian Christian has been lashed 80 times for drinking communion wine — and is serving 6 years in prison for organizing house churches,” Noronha tweeted. “ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic Republic of Iran are birds of the same radical feather.”
In October, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus condemned the reported flogging of Omidi.
“Deeply disturbed by reports Iran lashed Mohammad Reza Omidi 80 times for drinking communion wine,” she wrote on Twitter at the time. “He already served two years in prison for belonging to a house church. We condemn these unjust punishments and urge Iran to allow all Iranians the freedom to practice their beliefs.”
The U.S. government and international human rights activists have often criticized the Iranian government over human rights abuses against religious minorities. Governed by a theocratic regime and Islamic law, Iran is listed by the State Department as a “country of particular concern” for tolerating or engaging in systemic violations of religious freedom.
Open Doors USA, a persecution watchdog group that monitors human rights abuses in over 60 countries, ranks Iran as the ninth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.
Among many restrictions on the Christian community, the government prohibits church services from being conducted in the Farsi language. The government also bans Muslims from leaving Islam.
Christian converts who participate in house churches do so in fear that they could be arrested for doing so.
During the 2020 reporting period — Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2019 — Open Doors reports that at least 169 Christians were arrested in Iran.