ICC Note: Three Iranian Christians were acquitted of charges that their faith activities were crimes against national security and creating a network to overthrow the system. The three faced six year prison terms and those were overthrown on appeal. Two of the men are now free, the third is currently in prison on similar charges related to his faith but had the additional sentence removed.
12/18/2014 Iran (Christian News) Three Iranian pastors who were sentenced to six years in prison for committing “action against national security” and “creating a network to overthrow the system”—charges believed to be used as a catchall against anyone deemed a threat to the government —have now been acquitted of their crimes.
As previously reported, Behnam Irani, who leads the 300-member Church of Iran in Karaj, was initially detained in 2006 while holding a Bible study and sentenced to prison five years later for “action against the state.”
In June, he was interrogated on five occasions for four hours each. Authorities then added 18 new charges against the 41-year-old pastor, including Mofsed fel-Arz or “spreading corruption on Earth,” which carries the death penalty. Another translation of the charge is “enemies of God on Earth.”
However, in October, the charges were reduced and Irani instead faced accusations of “action against national security” and “creating a network to overthrow the system.” Two other leaders with the Church of Iran, Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad and Reza Rabbani, were charged as well. All three were declared guilty by Judge Asel Al-Hosseyn, and were sentenced to six years behind bars.
During a follow-up hearing on Dec. 9, an appeals court overturned the convictions of all three men. Haghnejad and Rabbani were released, but Irani still faces another two years behind bars from his previous five year sentence.
International Christian Concern (CCC) rejoiced after learning that the men had been vindicated.
“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,” Regional Manager Todd Daniels remarked in a statement. “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.”