Convictions Overturned, Two Iranian Christians Free, Additional Charges Dropped Against Third Christian
Six Year Prison Sentences Overturned for Christians Matthias Haghnejad, Silas Rabani and Benham Irani
12/15/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that an Iranian court has overturned six year prison sentences given to three Christian men in October for charges of political crimes for being members of a Christian church. Matthias Haghnejad and Silas Rabani were both released from custody. Benham Irani has served four years of a separate six year sentence, but had the additional six years that were added to his case removed.
The final hearing took place on December 9, before the Karaj Revolutionary Court and the ruling was delivered on Sunday, December 14 overturning the conviction and releasing two of the three accused. Matthias and Silas are released now and home with their families, Jason DeMars, president of Present Truth Ministries, told ICC after talking with friends who had spoken directly with them. The final status of the cases was not entirely clear as there was potential for a probationary period to be placed on the men, but for now they are free, DeMars said.
The three men were represented by Vahid Moshkani Farahani who, at a previous appeals hearing, argued that “people cannot be sentenced on political charges for simply belonging to a religious fellowship,” Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported.
The charges against the men were “crimes against national security” and “forming a network to overthrow the government,” according to DeMars. Previously, the three were charged with religiously based crimes of “spreading corruption on earth” (Mofsed-e-filarz) and “enmity against God” (Moharebeh), crimes that carry the possibility of the death penalty and for which people are regularly executed.
Christians are most often charged with crimes against national security, such as those brought against American Saeed Abedini who is serving an eight year prison term.
DeMars spoke with Kristina Irani, Benham’s wife, who reported her relief that the additional years were not added to Benham’s sentence. Also, had the new charges been added, Benham would have been relocated to the southern city of Zabol, but this was overturned. He will continue to be held at Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj, where his family is able to visit.
Kristina was able to see her husband briefly at the hearing and said that he looked fine. “He was doing well,” she told DeMars, but he has faced lingering health issues that have caused concerns during his prison time.
“We are very thankful for the prayers and the action the Christians have taken to speak out on their behalf and to intercede for them before the Lord,” DeMars told ICC on Monday.
ICC Regional Manager Todd Daniels said, “It is encouraging to see the Iranian judicial system rule on the merits of the case, rather than simply exploiting the system as a means of persecuting religious minorities, as is regularly the case. It is a fundamental aspect of religious freedom to be able to meet together with others who share your beliefs. For too long, the Iranian regime has treated such meetings as a threat to national security. The judicial system should uphold the commitments made by the Iranian government both in its constitution and in International Agreements to provide religious freedom for its citizens and should end the prosecution and unjust imprisonment of Christians for nothing more than practicing their religious beliefs. We continue to call for the full release of Pastor Benham Irani, Saeed Abedini, and the dozens more who are imprisoned unjustly.
For interviews, contact Todd Daniels, Regional Manager for Middle East: RM-ME@persecution.org
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