Iran: Christian convert loses appeal against 10-year sentence for ‘missionary activities’

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Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh (Article 18)

An Iranian convert to Christianity has had his 10-year prison sentence upheld after losing his appeal.

Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh was sentenced in May alongside three Azerbaijanis. All four men were given 10-year sentences for “missionary activities” and “actions against national security” in Iran.

However, the three Azerbaijanis – Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov – were allowed to leave Iran in November 2016 and are unlikely to be forced to return, despite their representatives also failing to overturn their verdicts during the 12 November hearing, World Watch Monitor understands.

“In recent months, a number of Christians were handed down sentences of between 10 and 15 years, charged with offences such as ‘acting against national security’. These political charges may help avoid international outcry at religiously motivated charges.”

Article 18

The four men were arrested in June 2016 after security agents raided a wedding party in Tehran. They spent four months in prison, but were then released on bail, after which the Azerbaijanis travelled home.

Left to right: Bahram Nasibov, Yusif Farhadov and Eldar Gurbanov (Middle East Concern)

The charges against the men were described as “unwarranted and unjustifiable” by Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

News of their sentencing came during the same week that four other Iranian Christians received lengthy jail terms for offences relating to evangelism and acting “against national security”. Since May, 21 Christians have been sentenced to long prison terms in Iran, according to advocacy group Article 18.

“Iran continues to violate international law on freedom of religion or belief,” according to Article 18, which noted that Iran is ranked 8th on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

“The growing community of Christian converts are not permitted to attend recognised churches and have to gather for worship in secret ‘house churches’ and risk arrest and imprisonment. In 2016 over 193 Christian were arrested for attending these prayer meetings and Bible studies in ‘house churches’.

“In recent months, a number of Christians were handed down sentences of between 10 and 15 years, charged with offences such as ‘acting against national security’. These political charges may help avoid international outcry at religiously motivated charges.”

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