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World News

Iranian pastor sentenced to 5 years in prison after brief trial

by Tola Mbakwe

Pastor Matthias Haghnejad was arrested by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard after a church service on 10 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.

According to religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a judge who is notorious for miscarriages of justice attempted to coerce Pastor Haghnejad and four of the other church members on trial into abandoning their lawyer and accepting a court-appointed legal representative.

On the 24 July court hearing, Judge Mohammed Moghisheh suspended the proceedings, remanding them in custody on significantly increased bail terms when they refused a court-appointed lawyer.

On 28 July Judge Moghisheh then resumed the trial of the other four men who were representing themselves. In the hearing he asserted that the Bible was falsified and called the men "apostates."

During a new hearing on 23 September, the lawyer for Pastor Haghnejad and the four other men,   was allowed to speak briefly.  Also, the judge is reported not to have responded to his statement.

A source informed CSW that "it seemed as if the judge had already made his decision and allowed this process as a formality before pronouncing a pre-determined sentence".

All nine Christians are appealing their sentences; however, Pastor Haghnejad and those who were defended by their own lawyer were remanded in custody.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas has strongly condemned the lack of a fair justice system.

He said: "Once again it is clear from the brevity of the trial and reported lack of interest of the presiding judge that due process was not observed, and that the judge was not impartial.

"The charges against these Christians are excessive, completely unfounded and constitute a criminalisation of a religion which the Iranian constitution purportedly recognises.

"We call for the immediate and unconditional release of these nine men, and all who are detained on account of their religion or belief in Iran."

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