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Iran sentences 2 Christians to 8 years in prison

(Wikimedia Commons/Mike Gadd)The Vank Cathedral in Esfahan, Iran.

Two Iranian Christians were sentenced to a total of eight years in prison after they were convicted of national security-related crimes last month.

According to Pakistani Christian Post, Eskandar Rezaei and Soroush Saraei were each sentenced to seven years' imprisonment each for "action against the National Security" and an additional year for proselytizing and organizing house meetings.

Saraie and Rezaie, both members of the Church of Iran denomination, are appealing the verdict which was handed down on Dec. 18, 2017 by the Fourth Chamber of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz.

During the same hearing, the court sentenced a Christian woman named Zahra Norouzi Kashkouli to a year in prison for "being a member of a group working against the system." Kashkouli is also appealing the sentence, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Saraie and Rezaie were initially arrested with five other Christians in October 2012 during a raid on a prayer meeting. In July 2013, they were found guilty of "action against national security" and "propaganda against the order of the system." Saraei received a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence and was jailed in July 2014 after losing his appeal. A one-year sentence was handed down to Rezaie, who began serving it in July 2015.

The two Christians were both released from Adelabad prison in November 2015, but they were rearrested and jailed again in 2017.

A few months later, Saraie and Rezaie were released on bail after making payments of US$95,000 and US$140,000, respectively.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said that their sentences were "yet another example of the unjust treatment of Iranian Christians, who are being criminalised on account of their faith."

"We call for these convictions to be overturned, and for the Iranian government to end its harassment of religious minorities. We urge the EU, the UK and the US to ensure that improvements in freedom of religion or belief and other human rights are a central part of any dialogues with the Iranian government," he added.

In 1975, Iran ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." However, many former Muslims have been arrested in recent years after they converted to Christianity.

Last month, four Iranian converts to Christianity were arrested in the city of Karaj, while they were taking part in a Christian ceremony at a house church.

IRNA, the Iranian government's official news agency, said that the arrested converts were part of a "devious Christian cult" who were seeking to "disrupt the market and economic order."

The World Christian Database (WCD) reported in 2010 that there were 270,057 Christians in Iran. No recent official statistics are available on the actual number of Christians in the country, but the 2011 state census has indicated that there were 117,704, with most belonging to recognized and tolerated traditional ethnic churches, such as Armenian churches.

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