TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Six out of eight detained Iranian Christians have lost their appeal against long prison terms on what friends view as trumped-up charges, trial observers said late Thursday, April 3.
A court in the southwestern city of Shiraz upheld the sentences after they were already found guilty of "actions against the national security" as well as "propaganda against the order of the system", Christians said.
Critics have linked the charges to the group's activities as members of the Church of Iran, one of the country's largest house church movements.
Following their detention July 16, Mohammad Roghangir was sentenced to six years in prison, Massoud Rezai to five years, Mehdi Ameruni and Bijan Farokhpour Haghighi to three years imprisonment, while Shahin Lahouti and Suroush Saraie received two and half years, and Eskandar Rezai and Roxana Forghi each received a one-year sentence.
However, charges against Roxana Forghi were dropped at last week's while Shahin Lahouti was released from prison in December 2013, according to Cristian rights activists familiar with the case.
"Seven of these Christians were initially arrested on 12 October 2012 when security forces raided a prayer meeting, while the eighth, Massoud Rezai, was detained a day later," said the Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) advocacy group.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that “Despite the promises of President Rouhani to ensure equality for all Iranians and to release political prisoners, it is disappointing to note that the Iranian regime continues to detain religious minorities on false political charges, as has occurred once again in this case."
He said his group had urged authorities to drop the charges against the six Christians, and "to end the practice of characterising legitimate religious activities as national security crimes."
He said it was crucial for Iran to "uphold the right of all religious minorities to freedom of religion and belief, as contained in Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which includes to right to change one's belief, and to which Iran is signatory."
News of their confirmed detention came shortly after Christians said Vahid Hakkani had begun a hunger strike to protest the rejection of his conditional release appeal by the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, some 934 kilometers (580 miles) outside the capital Tehran.
Hakkani was sentenced in June last year to 44 months imprisonment along with three other Iranian "house church" Christians on charges that included "attending a house-church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign [Christian] ministries" as well as "propaganda" against Iran's leadership and "disrupting national security," trial observers said earlier.
Christian men Homayoun Shokouhi, Mojtaba Seyyed-Ala'din Hossein, and Mohammad-Reza Partoei (Kourosh), are also being held at the 'Ebrat', or 'Edification', ward of Adel-Abad prison for their involvement in house churches and evangelism.
"We also urge the regime to ensure the unconditional release of Vahid Hakkani, particularly in light of his deteriorating health," Thomas said.
He added that Iranian authorities should "bring an end the harassment of religious minorities and to ensure that every Iranian citizen is able to enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled under national and international law, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.”
Former Muslims are especially targeted by authorities of the strict Islamic nation.
Iranian officials have defended their policies, saying those targeted violate Islamic laws and are working for foreign-backed groups.