Ahmad Sarparaast, Morteza Mashoodkari and Ayoob Poor-Rezazadeh have been sentenced to five years in prison for “engaging in propaganda and education of deviant beliefs contrary to the holy Sharia” and “connections with foreign leaders.”
Originally arrested in September 2021, the Christians’ case spent months in court. While being questioned, their interrogators blatantly mocked their faith, even forcing the men to listen to the Quran for three hours every day. They maintained their innocence, however, and denied all charges against them.
The men explained that they were “just Christians worshipping according to the Bible” and “have not engaged in any propaganda against the regime or any action against national security.” Nevertheless, the court convicted them under Article 500 of the penal code and sentenced them to five years in prison.
Article 500 has been widely denounced as a tool for religious persecution in Iran. Article 18, an organization that defends religious freedom in Iran, calls it “a full-on attack on the right to freedom of religion and belief.” Open Doors CEO David Curry describes the law as a “tragic disaster” for Iranian believers as it limits Iranians’ agency in determining what they believe.
The Christians’ lawyer, Iman Soleimani, pointed out many injustices in the trial. He claimed that the men were convicted based solely off claims from the Revolutionary Guards Corps, a group known for its zealous adherence to Islamic law. He also believed that the judge, Mohammed Hossein Hosseinpour, was unfairly biased against the Christians.
Most important, he noted, was the fact there was simply no justification for these sentences. The Christians had only been meeting together for prayer and worship.
On Twitter, Soleimani wrote: “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 defendents, and complained about this situation and the fact that they can also face charges themselves if they do not comply.”
He added that the judge in Ahmad, Morteza and Ayoob’s case had even indicated to him that he was under pressure to give the Christians the maximum possible sentences.
The sentencing adds to uncertainty over Iran’s policy toward Christians. In March 2022, nine Christians were released after a Supreme Court judge ordered their case be reviewed. On Easter Sunday, however, two Christian women began their two-year prison sentences. Christians in Iran live under a constant threat of punishment.