Date: July 12, 2017
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
RASHT, IRAN (ANS – July 12, 2017) – A UK-based Christian human rights group has revealed that Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie have been sentenced to ten years in prison each for “acting against national security.” The verdict, which was dated June 24, 2017, was received on July 6, 2017.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) -- the pastor and Mr Omidi were also given additional two years sentences to be served in an area the south of the country, which has an exceedingly hot and harsh environment. They have 20 days to appeal the sentence.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We are deeply disappointed by these excessive sentences, which are based on spurious charges and are clearly part of an intensified campaign of judicial harassment aimed at intimidating members of minority faiths.”
On June 14m 2917, the men were summoned to the 26th Chamber of the Revolutionary Tribunal, where the presiding judge, Judge Ahmadzadeh, informed them they would receive a verdict within 20 days, and accused their church of receiving £500,000 ($644,683.53) per year from the British government.
During the hearing, Judge Abolghasem Salavati, who heads the 15th Branch of the Revolutionary Court and is notorious for issuing harsh sentences, entered the court room and announced that “Christians make foolish claims.”
CSW says that the four men were arrested on May 13, 2017, during a series of raids by security service (VEVAK) agents on Christian homes in Rasht. A ruling on their case was expected prior to Iranian New Year on March 21, 2017; however, a decision to refer the case to judicial authorities in Tehran delayed the sentencing.
“A ruling is still overdue for a decision on an appeal by Mr. Omidi, Mr. Mossayebzadeh and Mr. Fadaie against a sentence of eighty lashes each for drinking wine during a Communion service,” said a CSW spokesperson.
“The July 6 verdict is the latest in a series of excessive sentences passed by Judge Ahmadzadeh against Iranian Christians based on unfounded charges.”
On July 3, 2017, Judge Ahmadzadeh sentenced Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, Mr. Hadi Asgari and Mr. Kaviyan Fallah-Mohammadi to ten years in prison each, while Amin Afshar-Naderi was given a 15-year sentence, and all were banned from travelling for two years.
According to Iranian Religious Freedom Organization Article18, Mr Afshar-Naderi and Mr Fallah-Mohammadi were among several Christians arrested on December 26, 2014 at a Christmas celebration at the pastor’s home in Tehran. They were both charged with “acting against national security by organizing and conducting house-churches,” and Mr Afshar-Naderi was also charged with “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy).
In yet another case, during a hearing held on May 23, 2017, Judge Ahmadzadeh imposed 10-year sentences on Iranian national Nasser Navard Goltape, and Yusif Farhadov, Eldar Gurbanov and Bahram Nasibov from the Republic of Azerbaijan. They had been arrested on June 24, 2016, and kept in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin prison for two months, where they were subjected to harsh interrogations before being charged.
Mervyn Thomas added, “We reiterate that the national security charges levelled in all of these cases amount to the criminalization of the Christian community for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief, and that this is occurring despite the fact that the Iranian constitution recognizes Christianity. We urge members of the international community to extend the sanctions still in place against Iranian individuals to include members of the judiciary who are implicated in ongoing and severe harassment and persecution of religious minority communities.”
Note: Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
Photo caption: 1) Iran: Logo from Christian Solidarity Worldwide. 2) Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. 3) Man receiving lashes in Iran. 4) Dan Wooding presenting a TV program.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books and has two US-based TV programs –- “Windows on the World” and “Inside Hollywood with Dan Wooding” -- which are both broadcast on the Holy Spirit Broadcasting Network (http://hsbn.tv/), and also a weekly radio show called “Front Page Radio” on the KWVE Radio Network (www.kwve.com).