Eight Iranian Christians Sentenced to Prison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

7/19/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that eight members of the Church of Iran have received prison sentences ranging from one to six years for “political charges.” The eight were sentenced to jail on July 16 after being found guilty of “action against national security” and “propaganda against the order of the system,” according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

 Mohammad Roghangir, Massoud Rezaie, Mehdi Ameruni, Bijan Farokhpour Haghighi, Shahin Lahooti, Suroush Saraie, Eskandar Rezaie and Roxana Forughi are members of the Church of Iran in Shiraz in southern Iran. All eight had been arrested by Iranian security forces in October 2012. Seven of them were arrested on October 12, 2012 during a raid by security forces on a prayer meeting led by Mohammad Roghangir. Massoud Rezaie was arrested along with another member six days later. Following their arrests in 2012, they were released on bail after paying amounts as much as $25,000, CSW reported.

In a statement cited by CSW, the National Council of the Church of Iran responded to the convictions saying, “In accordance with the Gospel, the Church is apolitical. While individual Christians are entitled to hold political opinions, the Church does not. These charges are entirely without foundation. However, as loyal citizens we will continue to pray for our leaders and for peace and reconciliation in our nation.” The group is expected to attempt to appeal these latest convictions.

Mervyn Thomas CSW’s Chief Executive said in a press release, “It is both disappointing and deplorable that the Iranian regime persists in detaining religious minorities on political charges, as has occurred once again in this case. These Christians in no way constitute a threat to the state.

Thomas continues, “We call for their unconditional release and urge the government to end the practice of characterising legitimate religious activities as national security crimes, and to uphold the right of all religious minorities to freedom of religion and belief, as contained in Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is signatory. We also call on the incoming presidency to bring an end the harassment of religious minorities and to ensure that every Iranian citizen is able to enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled under national and international law, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.”

Iran is recognized as one of the most restrictive countries in the world for its persecution of Christians. In a 2013 report the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said “hundreds of Protestant converts continue to be prosecuted under vague national security charges and remain in danger of being charged with apostasy, and Protestants continue to be denied their basic rights in almost all walks of life.” Iran has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999 for its systematic abuse of religious freedom. According to USCIRF since 2010 Iran has arbitrarily arrested at least 300 Christians in Iran.

Todd Daniels, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “We strongly condemn the prison sentences handed down to these Iranian citizens for nothing more than practicing their basic right of freedom of religion.  We call on the government of Iran to uphold their obligations to their international norms as a signatory of the ICCPR and to respect the basic rights of all Iranian citizens, including its religious minorities as enshrined in Article 18 of that covenant. ICC joins with other organizations in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of these individuals. We further urge the Iranian government to insure all its citizens their fundamental rights including the freedom of religion which includes the right to live in accordance with ones beliefs both individually and in community with others.”

 For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for the Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org

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