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ICC Note: Iran has overturned convictions against three Christian leaders after an appeals hearing. Two of the men were set free, a third is serving time under previous convictions for his faith activities. These are slightly encouraging measures though more than 50 Iranian Christians remain in prison for nothing more than meeting together as Christians.

12/16/2014 Iran (Christian Post) Three Iranian Christian leaders have seen their convictions overturned following an appeals hearing, in what persecution watchdog groups are hailing as an encouraging victory. Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and Deacon Silas Rabbani have been granted their freedom after their six-year sentences were overturned, but pastor Benhram Irani is still serving six years for previous convictions.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide confirmed the court’s decision in an email to The Christian Post on Tuesday. The group’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said in a statement: “We are extremely pleased to learn of the release of Pastor Matthias Haghnejad, Deacon Silas Rabbani, Hossein Baraunzadeh and Rahman Bahman. While we welcome this news, we remain concerned at the continued detention of Amin Khaki and long-term prisoners like Behnam Irani and Farshi Fathi – all of whom who have been unjustly detained.”

He added: “We continue to call on the Iranian government to uphold the rule of law and allow the country’s religious minorities to enjoy freedom of religion or belief as guaranteed under Iran’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is party.”

Thomas refers in his statement to the release of two other Christian Iranians, Hossein (Daniel) Baraunzadeh and Rahman (Zia) Bahman, who had been arrested during a picnic in May. Another Christian man arrested in the same incident, Amin Khaki, remains in prison.

Haghnejad, Rabbani and Irani had all appealed on Dec. 9 against their six-year sentences for “crimes against national security” and “forming a network to overthrow the government,” with the first two being released from prison following the court’s decision.

Other watchdog groups, such as the International Christian Concern, have also praised the court’s decision to overturn the sentences, but warned that more needs to be done to advance religious freedom rights in Iran.

“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,” ICC Regional Manager Todd Daniels said.

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