IRAN Iran releases nine Christians convicted of anti-state activities
This is a positive sign even though Reverend Matthias Abdulreza Ali Haghnejad and eight Church members in Iran still face a review of their trial. For the religious rights group, the accusations are unfounded; those involved simply exercised their right to freedom of worship. A number of Christian detainees are given 10 days Christmas leave.
Tehran (AsiaNews) – Iranian authorities have freed nine Christians, a Protestant clergyman and eight members of his community, sending an encouraging signal after repeated acts of abuse and repression.
Christians, who have been sentenced to long prison terms, are free but not yet out of the woods as their sentences are being reviewed, not overwritten.
Nonetheless, their cases bring some hope to the cause of religious freedom in the country, especially for those who abandon Islam for Christianity.
The release of the imprisoned Christians took place at the start of the new year, but has only been reported in recent days and has been greeted with satisfaction by international human rights groups.
Those released include Reverend Matthias Abdulreza Ali Haghnejad of the Church of Iran, who was serving a five-year prison sentence, as well as eight other members of his community.
The Protestant clergyman was jailed after a brief trial in September 2019, for “endangering state security” and “promoting Zionist Christianity”. They were also accused of establishing a house church.
Reverend Haghnejad appealed his conviction in early 2020, hoping at least to be placed under house arrest since Iranian prisons have become huge hubs for the spread of COVID-19 after the outbreak of the pandemic.
However, the court rejected his request after Ayatollah Khamanei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, allegedly allowed the presiding judge to bypass court proceedings.
The case was followed closely by various international organizations, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which worked for the release of the clergyman through appeals and support initiatives.
At the time of their arrest, the Christian rights group had expressed its deep concern at the “lack of due process”, saying that “the charges against them are unfounded”. For this reason, he called for “their immediate and unconditional release”.
The conviction and the failure of the appeal seemed to have ended the story, but the case took a positive turn late last year with the release and the request for a review of the trial.
Reverend Haghnejad left his cell on December 30, while his fellow believers were released on January 1.
CSW President Mervyn Thomas welcomed the news and expressed cautious optimism that the nine can now “return home after spending nearly three years in prison”.
“However, they still face unfounded and excessive charges simply for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief,” he added.
According to him, “they have committed no crime and we continue to call for their exoneration and urge the Iranian authorities to end the use of national security charges against members of the Christian community who peacefully practice their faith ”.
Meanwhile, Iranian justice chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei called on prison authorities to grant Christian detainees ten-day leave to “mark the new year 2022 and the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.” .
Armenian and Assyrian Christians have benefited from this measure, but Milad Goudarzi, a convert convicted of apostasy and “engaging in propaganda that educates in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam”.