Iran upholds 10-year sentence of Christian convert who was arrested for 'missionary activities'

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

An Iranian court has upheld the 10-year prison sentence of a Christian convert who was arrested last year for engaging in "missionary activities" and "actions against national security."

Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh, a convert from a Muslim background, was arrested in June 2016 along with three Azerbaijanis after security agents raided a wedding party they attended in Tehran.

World Watch Monitor reported that the three Azerbaijanis — Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov — were also sentenced to 10 years in prison, but they were allowed to leave Iran in November last year. The men had reportedly spent four months in prison before they were released on bail.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), described the charges against the men at the time as "unwarranted and unjustified."

"We are deeply concerned for Mr Gol-Tapeh in particular, who [being in Iran] is likely to bear the brunt of a sentence that was clearly issued on a punitive rather than on a legal basis," he said.

CSW reported that the judge handed down the sentences during a hearing held on May 23, 2017, but the men did not hear about the verdict until June 12.

The three Azerbaijanis are unlikely to be forced to return, despite the failure of their representatives to overturn their verdicts during the Nov. 12 hearing.

The news of their sentencing in May came during the same week that a court handed down lengthy jail sentences to four other Iranian Christians for offenses related to evangelism and acting "against national security."

World Watch Monitor reported in July that four Christians, including a pastor, had received jail sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years.

Kaviyan Fallah-Mohammadi, Hadi Asgari and Amin Afshar-Naderi were sentenced to 10 years in prison alongside their pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz for "conducting evangelism" and "illegal house-church activities." Naderi got another five-year prison sentence, in addition to his 10-year sentence, for "insulting the sacred."

According to CSW, the maximum sentence issued in previous cases against Christians was five years, and in some cases when the defendants received two five-year sentences, the jail terms were reduced to half on appeal.

At least 21 Christians have been sentenced to long prison terms in Iran since May, according to advocacy group Article 18.

"Iran continues to violate international law on freedom of religion or belief," the group remarked.

"The growing community of Christian converts are not permitted to attend recognised churches and have to gather for worship in secret 'house churches' and risk arrest and imprisonment. In 2016 over 193 Christian were arrested for attending these prayer meetings and Bible studies in 'house churches,'" it continued.

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