Protestant Christians in Shiraz Sentenced to One Year in Prison
An appeals court in the southern city of Shiraz upheld a one year prison sentence last week for Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani of the Protestant Christian group, the Church of Iran, and five other church members, Parviz Khalaj, Amin Afshar Manesh, Mehdi Forutan, Mohammad Baliad, and Nazli Makarian, according to the lawyer for the defendants, Mahmoud Taravatrooy. Taravatorooy told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that his clients, sentenced on the charge of “propaganda against the regime,” do not have the option to appeal the verdict and will soon report to the Revolutionary Court to begin serving their sentence.
Taravatorooy explained that court based the conviction on the fact that the defendants promoted their religion. He told the Campaign:
“From my vantage point as their lawyer, this was a very weak case. The evidence that was presented [by the prosecution] did not in any way amount to ‘propaganda against the regime.’ However the sum of the activities [my clients ] conducted to promote their Christian Protestant religion has been construed as ‘propaganda against the regime. So because they proselytized the authorities considered it [anti-regime] propaganda. Yet, according to articles 13 and 14 of the Iranian Constitution they are free to promote their own religion.”
Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution recognizes the right of Christians to practice their faith. Article 14 mandates the Iranian government to respect the equality of human rights of Christians and other recognized religions.
Taravatrooy stressed that “the judgment is official and there is no path of appeal.”
The First Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz issued the original conviction on 5 April 2011. At that trial the court acquitted the six Christians on the additional count of “acting against national security.”
Sadegh-Khanjani had also faced an apostasy charge that was dropped earlier this year. Authorities then charged him with “insulting Islamic sanctities,” an act similar to blasphemy. According to his lawyer, Branch 120 of the Criminal Court of Shiraz acquitted Sadegh-Khanjani of that charge but the prosecution appealed and the appeal remains pending.