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9 believers freed from prison in ‘landmark decision’ for Christians in Iran

by Kelly Valencia

A court has acquitted nine men who were sentenced to five years in prison for attending a house church in Iran in what is being described as a ‘landmark decision’ for Christians in the nation.

Abdolreza (Matthias) Haghnejad, Khalil Daeghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian, Mohammad Vafadar, Mohammad (Sharooz) Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi and Behnam Akhlaghi were imprisioned in 2019 for “acting against national security” and “promoting Zionist Christianity”.

But in early November 2021 the Supreme Court ordered a review of their case arguing that going to church does not mean Christians are “enemies of the state” and on Monday ordered the nine men to be released from prison.

The appeal court judges, Seyed Ali Asghar Kamali and Akbar Johari, found there was “insufficient evidence” the group had acted against national security as they had only “worshipped in the house-church in accordance with the teachings of Christianity” and argued that Christians are taught to live in “obedience, submission and support of the authorities”.

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

Open Doors, Release International and Article 18 have been supporting the group’s case. Earlier this year, the group called on the UN to help Persian speakers in Iran to have the right for a place of worship.

Welcoming the news of the acquittal of the charges, Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, commented: “This ruling is unlike any other of its type that I have seen, as the judges have gone to considerable length to explain their verdict, listing nine different reasons based on the constitution, judicial principles, legal provisions and Islamic tradition.

“These judges have now found that the initial ruling that caused some of these Christians to spend over two and a half years of their lives in prison was legally unjustifiable. Meanwhile, at least a dozen others, including one of the nine involved in this case, are still in prison or enforced internal exile following their own convictions on similar charges.”

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