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World News

Iranian pastor's sentence upheld without court hearing

by Ruth Sax

A five-year prison sentence given to pastor Matthias Haghnejad was upheld on 25th February without a hearing, after Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei, reportedly permitted the judge to bypass court procedures, according to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). 

Pastor Haghnejad was initially sentenced following a trial in September 2019. Eight other members of the Church of Iran also received five-year sentences. All of them were convicted of "endangering state security" and "promoting Zionism" and are currently being held in Evin Prison in Tehran.

Pastor Haghnejad was arrested by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard after a church service in February 2019, while Shahrouz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Behnam Akhlaghi, Mehdi Khatibi, Mohammad Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar (Elisha) and Khalil Dehghanpour were detained following a series of arrests in Rasht in early 2019.

A number of legal irregularities have happened during their detention, including pressure from a judge to force some of the detainees into replacing their lawyer with a court-appointed legal representative. 

At another hearing, Judge Moghisheh, who is notorious for miscarriages of justice according to CSW, said the Bible was false and called the men "apostates."

CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We are deeply concerned by the lack of due process in Pastor Matthias Haghnejad's case, and that of the eight other members of the Church of Iran, who have been sentenced alongside him. CSW believes that the charges against them are without basis and continues to call for their immediate and unconditional release."

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