Christian clergyman pardoned while Mahsa Amini's father was briefly detained
Rev Joseph Shahbazian was given a 10-year sentence, reduced to two in May. In prison he developed health problems, which might explain his early release. For a Christian activist, this is good news amid a surge of arrests. A year after Mahsa Amini’s death, her father too was detained. The authorities are trying hard to ban her memory.
Tehran (AsiaNews) – Iranian authorities pardoned an Armenian-Iranian clergyman, reports Article18, an advocacy group dedicated to religious freedom and persecuted Christians in Iran, Rev Joseph Shahbazian was released this week after spending just over a year in Evin prison, a facility located on the outskirts of Tehran,
The authorities this morning briefly detained the father of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died on 16 September 2022 as a result of a beating after she was detained a few days earlier for improperly wearing the mandatory headscarf.
Anticipating possible protests and in an attempt to erase the memory of her death and the fight for rights and freedoms it sparked, security forces have been deployed across the country to prevent any gatherings.
According to Hengaw, a Kurdish human rights organisation, some men, ostensibly Guardians of the Revolution (Pasdaran), took Mahsa’s father, Amjad, from his home to an undisclosed location. During his detention he was warned not to organise any commemoration or event in public or on social media.
This is further confirmation of the iron fist policy pursued by the authorities against any form of protest or attempt to remember the young woman, whose death triggered a wave of protests that were crushed in blood with scores of people shot dead (some sentenced to death), hundreds wounded as well as mass arrests in a crescendo of repression.
As for the Christian clergyman, Rev Joseph Shahbazian was tried in the summer of 2022 for holding religious services at his home and given a 10-year sentence, reduced to two last May.
Rev Joseph suffered ill health during his 13 months in prison, and was denied medical care for several months. When he was eventually examined, he was not told his diagnosis. Only recently and by chance did he discover that he was suffering from a serious illness.
It is unclear whether he was pardoned for this reason. Since he had served more than a third of his reduced sentence, he was eligible for conditional release, but he did not apply because it would mean agreeing not to engage in the activities that got him arrested, i.e. hosting house-church meetings with Christian converts.
Armenian and Assyrian Iranians are free to worship in their native languages but churches offering Persian-language services have been closed on several occasions over the past 15 years. As a result, Iranians who wish to worship in the country’s main language – whether converts, Armenians or Assyrians – often have no place to do so.
This has led to the emergence of so-called house churches, like Rev Joseph’s, where worshippers can gather to pray. Eventually, Iranian authorities banned meeting in such places, referring to participants as “enemy groups" whose members have been systematically arrested and jailed on charges of “acting against national security”.
For Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, the pastor “should never have been imprisoned in the first place only for exercising his constitutional right to a place to worship.”
Still, his release is a “rare piece of good news,” but it comes “after a constant barrage of sad reports recently of an upsurge of arrests involving more than 100 Christians in the past three months alone,” Borji said.
“We hope the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom – shown in the ongoing ‘women, life, freedom’ protests – will be realised and will finally put an end to injustices like these,” he added.
Over a seven-week period in June and July, Iranian authorities arrested scores of Christians, mostly Muslim converts, but also some Assyrian-Chaldeans baptised at an early age, in 11 different cities.
Two of those arrested were reported to be Armenian-Iranians, Christian from birth, but there could be many more.
The wave of arrests (sometimes on espionage charges) among Christians coincides with a new crackdown on Bahá’ís, who, along with Christian converts, are not recognised by the state.