09/03/2021, 13.03
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Iranian Christians sentenced to five years in prison for apostasy

The sentence was eventually reduced to three years on appeal. Released on bail with obligation to report to police, the Christians were charged with “spreading propaganda” against the state, and engaging in “deviant educational activities”. In East Azerbaijan province, a man sent to prison for alcohol possession dies from flogging.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – Three men in the town of Karaj were sentenced on 22 August to five years in prison for propaganda against the state after they converted to Christianity from Islam.

The sentence was later reduced to three years on appeal. In the meantime, they were released on bail with obligation to report weekly to the intelligence branch of Iran’s police.

According to Article18, a London-based advocacy group dedicated to religious freedom in Iran, the three converts – Milad Goudarzi, Ameen Khaki and Alireza Nourmohammadi (pictured) – were convicted of “spreading propaganda” against the state and engaging in “deviant educational activities opposing Islam”, i.e., practicing a religion different from Islam.

The initial verdict in June also imposed a fine of almost US$ 1,500 on each man who were released on bail for nearly $ 9,000. They will have to report to the authorities at least once a week for the next six months.

In November 2020, security forces raided their homes and seized personal items, including computers, mobile phones and religious books.

At the end of the trial, investigators returned the personal effects, but not the Christian literature.

Under Iranian law, evangelisation, missionary work and conversion to Christianity are offences that entail 10 years of imprisonment or more. Distributing Christian literature in Persian is illegal.

Although apostasy was officially abolished in 1994 – the last execution for this crime dating back to 1990, courts can still convict people for leaving Islam on the basis of fatwas (Islamic legal opinions).

Meanwhile, recent media reports indicate that a prison inmate in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province died from flogging after he was convicted for possession of alcoholic beverages.

Hadi Atazadeh allegedly died while serving an unspecified prison sentence, which included an unspecified number of lashes.

He was convicted a year and a half ago, but his family were never officially informed of the verdict nor of the number of lashes. Under Iranian law, consumption and possession of alcoholic drinks are punishable by up to 80 lashes.

In a video released by the family showing the preparation for the Islamic pre-burial ritual, the man’s black and blue body shows clear lash marks, which might indicate the cause of death.

Prison authorities have rejected the family’s accusations, but have not provided any convincing explanation, claiming instead that the prisoner had reported some stomach pain.

State media have reported various causes of death, including suicide, the coronavirus, intoxication, but none with convincing evidence.

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