Three jailed Iranian converts to Christianity, Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh and Saheb Fadaei, have denounced “gross violations” of their human rights in an open letter from Evin Prison. The letter, the full text of which was published by HRANA news agency, protests against the deprivation of Persian-speaking Christians’ right to worship as they see fit.
Apart from international conventions, the three wrote, the Iranian authorities’ treatment of Christians was in violation of Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution. “One of the rights that has been suppressed is the right to a church and building,” they said. “As a result of its gross and widespread violation, a large number of Christians has been imprisoned across Iran, sentenced to long prison terms, flogged and deprived of their citizenship rights."
Iranian Christians have long practised their faith at house churches set up in residential areas, because Christian rites are not allowed to be conducted in Persian at Iranian churches. The security agencies’ response has been to crack down on house churches too, regularly rounding up and arresting local faith leaders and members of their congregation.
In addition, the authors wrote, "Many [formal] churches have been sealed off, destroyed, or undergone a change of use. This land is regressing, and becoming more and more devoid of any sign of ideological diversity. Coercion – and policy that seeks to obscure, then destroy thought – block the ways in which free thought and expression can manifest. Suppression of freedom of thought, action, and belief by the iron fist of the government does not discriminate. If we close our eyes to the closed doors of the official churches, we close our eyes to the violation of all the rights of Christians in Iran."
The three also decried the reasons for their arrest and those of countless other Christians since 1979. “A quick glance at the cases and charges against detained Christians reveals that over the past forty years, the reasons for detention have almost always been related to their right to a place of collective worship, in the Persian language. Those who gathered and worshiped in their homes in pursuit of this were pinned with ‘security’ labels by the government."
Babak Hosseinzadeh and Behnam Akhlaghi were first arrested by security forces on February 23, 2019. They were were transferred to prison after 12 days in custody, then temporarily released on March 18, 2019 on a bail of 150 million tomans ($5,429) until the end of judicial proceedings. In June that year, their trial opened at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, presided over by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh. The pair were then sentenced to five years in prison each in June 2020 for “acting against the security of the country by forming a house church and propagating evangelical and Zionist Christianity”.
The third Christian convert, Saheb-Zaman Fadaei, was arrested by the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence on May 13, 2016 during a house church service in Rasht. He and other members of the church were also charged with promoting what was termed “Zionist Christianity”, and put on trial on July 24, 2017 at Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal, under Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh.
Fadaei was ultimately sentenced to ten years in prison. Later on, in September 2018, he was hit with an additional charge of “propaganda against the regime” and recidivism, and sentenced to a further year and six months behind bars as well as two years of internal exile in Nehbandan, South Khorasan. His total sentence was reduced to six years on appeal in July 2019. But then, despite having been behind bars for years on end, he was further sentenced to the inhumane punishment of flogging in November 2020 on the official charge of drinking alcohol.