Bushehr Christians face prison, exile, work restrictions and fines
The seven, including three married couples, received their verdicts on 21 June at the revolutionary court in Bushehr.
They were given 20 days to appeal, and intend to do so.
The four men – Habib Heydari, Pooriya Peyma, and brothers Sam and Sasan Khosravi – each received custodial sentences. Sam and Sasan also face work restrictions and exile after their release.
The three women – Fatemeh Talebi, and sisters Maryam and Marjan Falahi – were fined. Maryam, a nurse, was also given a lifetime ban on working for any national institution, including the hospital she’s worked at for 20 years.
Details of sentences
Sam and Sasan were each sentenced to one year in prison, followed by a two-year exile from Bushehr, which includes a ban on working in their specialist profession – the hospitality sector.
Habib also received a one-year prison sentence, but no exile or work restrictions. Pooriya received a 91-day sentence – the minimum jail time required to ensure the prisoner leaves with a criminal record – and again no exile or work restriction.
Sam and Sasan’s wives, Maryam and Marjan, received fines of 8 million tomans (around $400) and 6 million tomans (around $300) respectively.
Maryam’s additional lifetime ban on employment at any national institution is a severe blow after her two decades of service at the local hospital.
Finally, Pooriya’s wife, Fatemeh, received a 4 million toman fine (around $200) – equivalent to two months’ salary for the average Iranian.
The seven Christians were given their verdicts to read, but not allowed to take them home or to make copies.
They were each convicted of the same charge – “propaganda against the state” – under Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, which provides for up to a year in prison for anyone found guilty of engaging in “any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations”.
The Iranian Parliament recently passed amendments to two articles of the Penal Code, including Article 500, but they do not appear to have had any impact in this particular verdict.
The amendments enable judges to label those convicted of “insulting Islam” or “propaganda against Islam” as being members of “sects”. Those convicted of membership of such groups can face flogging or even the death penalty, in addition to imprisonment and fines.
The seven Christians were first arrested on 1 July 2019, alongside Sam and Sasan’s mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh, who is in her sixties and as a result was released later the same day.
The seven detained Christians were released over two weeks later, having each posted bail of 300 million tomans (around $30,000).
During the arrests, officers introducing themselves as agents from the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) stormed the Christians’ homes in a coordinated operation, confiscating Bibles, Christian literature, wooden crosses and pictures carrying Christian symbols, along with laptops, phones, all forms of identity cards, bank cards and other personal belongings.
The agents also searched their work offices and confiscated computer hard drives and security-camera recordings.
They treated them harshly, even though small children were present during the arrests.
The seven Christians were then held in solitary confinement in the MOIS office in Bushehr and denied access to lawyers. They were also coerced to confess to their “crimes” on camera.
Some of their associates were later summoned for interrogation.
The seven initially faced two additional charges – “collusion”, and “membership of a group hostile to the regime” – which could have led to ten-year sentences.
They were acquitted of those charges at a hearing on 30 December 2019, but told that the remaining charge against them was “applicable” because of their possession of Christian literature and other Christian items, which were claimed to be evidence they had evangelised.
The judge even named some of the Christian literature that had been found at their properties, including copies of ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘Getting to Know the Bible’.
A further hearing took place on 20 April, after which the court clerk told them they could expect a verdict within a week, though their lawyer told them it could take months.
Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, commented:
“Condemning these people to prison because of their possession of Bibles and Christian symbols is a clear demonstration that Iran’s Foreign Minister and others aren’t telling the truth when they say that ‘no-one is put in prison in Iran simply because of their beliefs’.”
“These people have done nothing that could be construed as ‘propaganda against the state’ or ‘acting against national security’, but nevertheless they have been treated so unjustly. The international community must hold Iran to account for this miscarriage of justice, and many others like it.”