An Iranian Christian couple have been told to expect an imminent prison summons for belonging to a house-church.
Convert Homayoun Zhaveh, 62, and Sara Ahmadi, 42, were arrested by intelligence agents in June 2019 while on holiday with several other Christian families in Amol, Mazandaran province.
The pair were first held in Amol before being taken to Evin Prison, where Homayoun was held for a month before being released. Sara spent 67 days in detention, during which she was subjected to extreme psychological torture, including 33 days in solitary confinement, mostly on the Intelligence Ministry’s Ward 209.
The pair were sentenced to two and 11 years in prison respectively for membership and leadership of the church. The sentences were issued by Judge Iman Afshari on November 14, 2020, three days after a hearing at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
The pair appealed the verdict and Sara’s sentence was slightly reduced to eight years on December 30; she had originally been sentenced to eight years for organizing a so-called "illegal" organization and three for membership of it, but the couple's lawyer argued it was impossible to organize without being a member.
The rest of the sentence was upheld. Both Homayoun and Sara are also banned from foreign travel or membership of any social or political group for two years after their release, and were given six months’ community service at a centre for the mentally disabled.
During the appeal, the couple’s lawyer had argued that it was “unclear” how meeting as a group of Christians could be construed as membership of an “illegal organisation”.
He added: “My clients have always insisted that they haven’t engaged in any actions against national security, nor do they harbour any animosity or hostility towards the government.”
On Sunday, March 14, Homayoun and Sara were informed their case had been advanced and they could receive a summons to prison at any moment. Homayoun Zhaveh has Parkinson’s disease and coupled with his advanced age, concerns have been raised for his welfare in jail, especially during a global pandemic.
Mansour Borji, advocacy director for Article18, an NGO promoting religious freedom in Iran, said: “To hand down a prison sentence to a man of Homayoun’s age, suffering with advanced Parkinson’s – and only because of his membership of a house-church – would be shocking were it not for Iran’s proven track record of systematically persecuting Persian-speaking Christians, regardless of their age, health, or any other reasonable considerations.
“We call on Iran to immediately reverse its decision, and to stop persecuting Christian converts like Homayoun and Sara for the peaceful practice of their faith.”