Iran: Crack-Down on Christians in Iran Continues with Two More Prison Sentences

Rights groups learned last week that two Christians in Iran have been sentenced to prison, the latest in a series of convictions on fabricated charges.

Saheb Fadaei, already serving a 10-year prison sentence in Tehran, and Fatimeh Bakherti, both converts from Islam, were sentenced on Sept. 22 to 18 months and 12 months respectively for “spreading propaganda against the regime,” a common charge, according to Miles Windsor, advocacy and development manager of Middle East Concern (MEC).

“It is essentially used along with charges such as ‘acting against national security’ as a broad charge against Christians,” Windsor said. “And it will relate to innocent activities as members of a house church.”

Bakherti, 37, had been harassed by security agents for more than a year and interrogated at least once before her sentencing, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). She was arrested on May 25, 2017 along with several others during a police raid on her home.

The verdict, which is being appealed, stated that house church discussions of Christian doctrine regarding the ascendancy of Christ and the ultimate authority of the Bible were interpreted as attacks on Islam, local sources told CSW.

Such a statement reveals the true religious-based motives behind the arrests, Windsor said. 

“I think in a lot of recent cases, the authorities have gone to great lengths to promote the idea that arrests and detentions are about security issues, rather than faith issues, so this reveals the real motivation there,” Windsor said.

Fadaei was also sentenced to two years of internal exile in Nehbandan County, close to the border with Afghanistan, according to MEC. He will not have to serve this latest prison sentence, however, as Fadaei is serving a different sentence in Evin Prison in Tehran.

“The fact that Mr. Fadaie and Ms. Bakhteri were convicted for asserting Christian doctrine is not only a grave violation of their right to espouse a religious belief of their choosing but also criminalizes the Christian faith, which the Iranian constitution purports to recognize,” CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a press statement last week. 

Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to change one’s religion. Additionally, Article 23 of the Iranian Constitution states that “the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”

Growth of Christianity

The reality for Christians is that Iran is one of the worst places to practice their faith in the region that MEC covers, Windsor said. 

“We serve Christians in 24 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and Iran is one of the worst places for persecution,” he said. “There is a determined effort and has been for many years to prevent and deter Christians and Christianity."

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