Iranian Christians lose appeal against prison sentences

Prisoner goes on hunger strike

Originally published in Christian Today

A group of Christians imprisoned after a raid on a prayer meeting in Iran have lost appeals against their sentences.

The sentences being served by the six Christians vary in length and were upheld by a court on 29 March following an appeal.

The group, from Shiraz, were arrested on 12 October 2012 and the following July were charged with ‘action against the national security’ and ‘propaganda against the order of the system’.

Mohammad Roghangir was sentenced to six years in prison, Massoud Rezai to five years. Mehdi Ameruni and Bijan Farokhpour Haghighi received three year sentences, Suroush Saraie two and half years, and Eskandar Rezai was given a one-year sentence.

They were arrested and detained alongside two others who have since been freed. The court decided to drop charges against Roxana Forghi, who had received a one-year sentence. Shahin Lahouti, who also received a two and a half year sentence, was released from prison in December last year.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said he was disappointed that the change of president had not halted the detention of religious minorities in Iran, despite promises of equality for all citizens.

He said religious minorities in Iran, including the group from Shiraz, were being detained on false political charges.

“We call for the charges against the six Christians sentenced to be dropped, urge the government to end the practice of characterising legitimate religious activities as national security crimes, and to uphold the right of all religious minorities to freedom of religion and belief, as contained in Article 18 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which includes to right to change one’s belief, and to which Iran is signatory,” he said.

CSW is also calling for the release of Vahid Hakkani, a convert to Christianity, who according to Mohabat News has been on hunger strike since 20 March after losing his appeal for conditional release.

He was sentenced last June alongside three other converts by Branch 3 of the Revolutionary Cour, receiving three years and eight months in prison.

The charges against him were of ‘attending house church services’, ‘promoting Christianity’, ‘propagating against the regime’ and ‘disturbing national security’.

He has taken the drastic measure of going on hunger strike despite suffering from digestive problems, which needed surgery late last year. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) understands that his health is deteriorating rapidly.

Mr Thomas appealed to Iran to grant his unconditional release.

Meanwhile, Christian Post reports that another Iranian Christian prisoner has decided to go on a hunger strike despite suffering from intense physical pain in order to protest the rejection of his conditional release.

“Vahid [Hakkani] has suffered intense physical mistreatment and has been in dire need of medical treatment throughout his detention, and he was transferred to a hospital to receive some necessary treatment,” Todd Daniels, International Christian Concern’s regional manager for the Middle East, told The Christian Post in an email Thursday. “He and his family have pressured the government to grant him a conditional release so that he can receive the treatment he needs, but the officials have repeatedly denied this request.”

Hakkani, who is a Christian convert from the city of Shiraz, was arrested along with three other men in February 2012 and later sentenced to three years and eight months in prison by Iran’s Revolutionary Court for attending house church gatherings and contacting foreign Christian ministers, which is forbidden in Iran.

Morning Star News reported on Wednesday that Hakkani began his hunger strike on March 20 after he was denied a conditional release that allows inmates to be freed after completing half their prison terms.

The Iranian Christian, who has been suffering from a number of serious health problems, was allowed two months’ leave in November 2013 for surgical treatment of intestinal hemorrhoids, which was causing him to lose close to one-third of a liter of blood a day.

Daniels told CP that when a prisoner decides to stage a hunger strike, it is often with the intention to protest the unjust treatment they are receiving.

“It is one of the few means they have to draw attention to their plight. Iran has been cited in the past by the United Nations for its abuse of prisoners; this is often the case for political prisoners and prisoners of conscience,” he explained.

“We call on the Iranian authorities to bring an end the harassment of religious minorities and to ensure that every Iranian citizen is able to enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled under national and international law, including the right to freedom of religion or belief,” he said.