04/14/2022, 20.33
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Rasht court sentences Christian converts to five years in prison for praying together

The three were found guilty under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran. Their charge sheet includes “engaging in propaganda and education of deviant beliefs contrary to the Holy Sharia” as well as “connections with foreign leaders”. The judge who presided over this case came under pressure to deliver what one activist calls an “arbitrary” sentence.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court in Rasht, a city in Gilan province on the Caspian Sea, convicted three Iranian Christian converts from Islam for “engaging in propaganda and education of deviant beliefs contrary to the Holy Sharia” as well as for “connections with foreign leaders”. All three were sentenced to five years in prison. They also have to pay a fine of 18 million tomans (around US$ 7,500).

According to the Article 18, Ahmad Sarparast, Morteza Mashoodkari and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh were arrested in September 2021 and indicted under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran. Their trial began on 25 January and their sentence handed down last Saturday, 10 April.

Iman Soleimani, a lawyer representing the three Christians, reports that the verdict is based only on information provided by the Guardians of the Revolution (Pasdaran).

In his view, there is no legal basis for the conviction. Their only “crime” was meeting to pray and worship as Christians. However, a religious assembly cannot be considered an “action against the state”.

The first question asked by the judge during the trial related to the religion of the accused. This turned the hearing into a form of “inquisition” whereby the presiding judge played the role of public prosecutor rather than an independent third party called to rule on the matter. In fact, the judge explicitly referred to the religion of the accused as a motive for their conviction.

All three are appealing the verdict, and for the sake of justice, all three have turned down an offer of lenience – sentence reduced by a quarter – and “better” treatment in prison if they agree to remain quiet.

The three men are the second group of Christians convicted under Article 500 after the Penal Code was amended last year to further restrict freedom of religion for non-Muslims.

The defence attorney stressed that the judge came under pressure, which prompted him to impose the maximum sentence against the Christians.

On Twitter, Soleimani writes: “Unfortunately, in political and ‘security’ cases, the judges are under a lot of pressure from the arresting agents, and some independent judges have openly stated this in the presence of lawyers and defendants, and complained about this situation and the fact that they can also face charges themselves if they do not comply.”

For Article 18’s advocacy director Mansour Borji, “The verdict in this case is typical of arbitrary sentences, stating only that the individuals were convicted because they had remained ‘persistent in their beliefs’.”

What is more, the “conviction is also based only on the reports of interrogators – nothing more – and is therefore entirely devoid of any legal justification. The proceedings in this case also clearly debunk Iranian officials’ claims, repeated constantly to international media, that the judiciary is independent.”

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