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Article 18 9 christian prisoners.jpg
Article 18 9 christian prisoners.jpg
World News

Supreme Court ruling could see 9 Christians released from prison in Iran

by Heather Preston

Nine men imprisoned for attending a house church in Iran could have their sentences overturned following a landmark judgement.

Although Iran recognises Christianity as a faith, many believers there face persecution and imprisonment for evangelising or worshipping together.

In 2019, nine Christian converts were arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for 'acting against national security', after attending a house church in the northern city of Rasht.

Following their imprisonment, two of the men made appeals to the government calling for a safe place to freely and collectively worship following their release.

The majority of Persian-speaking churches in the country have been forcibly closed in recent years, while attending a house-church has become a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment.

In November, the Supreme Court ruled that going to church does not make Christians 'enemies of the state'.

The decision states explicitly that the men's involvement in house-churches and even the propagation of what is referred to as the "Evangelical Zionist sect" should not be deemed as against national security. 

Earlier this year a number of religious freedom charities including OpenDoors, Release International and Article 18 launched a campaign to fight for the right to a place of worship for Persian speakers in Iran and called upon the UN to take action.

Advocacy director for Article 18 tells Premier he is encouraged by the Supreme Court ruling and hopes it will set a precedent for future cases.

"The publicity worked. [The ruling] shows that they are trying to negotiate terms of release with them. 

"But the wider implication is for the many Iranians that are arrested and charged for the same charges these men are imprisoned for.

"For these nine people it could mean release from prison - but it is too early to make that conclusion.

"However, it could influence this case and future cases as well."

The case will now be returned to the revolutionary court. If the court insists on its initial ruling it then goes back to the Supreme Court.

Borji says although the ruling is a step in the right direction, there is more that needs to be done to ensure Iran meets its international obligations towards freedom of religion or belief.

"We welcome this good news and consider it an answer to prayer.

"But it requires a lot more pressure. We are encouraged that the Church globally can influence the policy, laws and behaviours of the Iranian but we need a lot more changes to the regime."

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