An appeal to free Homayoun and Sara – Iranian Christians arrested for belonging to a house church – has failed.
Homayoun and Sara were on holiday in northern Iran when they were arrested. The married couple are both Iranian Christians from a Muslim background, and knew that they risked persecution when they joined a house church – but what makes the arrest even harder is that Homayoun is suffering from advanced Parkinson’s disease.
After their arrest, Homayoun and Sara were detailed, first in Amol and then in Tehran’s notoriously awful Evin prison. Homayoun was released after a month, but Sara remained in prison for more than two months, where she experienced severe psychological torture. She also spent more than a month of the time in solitary confinement.
In November 2020, Sara was sentenced to 11 years in prison, and Homayoun was sentenced to two years. At an appeal a month later, Sara’s sentence was reduced to eight years – but otherwise their appeal was unsuccessful. After they are released, they will not be permitted to leave the country or belong to a social or political group for six years.
When Christians are arrested for belonging to or leading house churches, their official charge is ‘crimes against national security’. But, as the couple’s lawyer told the court during the appeal hearing, “My clients have always insisted that they haven't engaged in any actions against national security, nor do they harbour any animosity or hostility towards the government.”
He added that Homayoun’s severe illness would make it impossible to be a threat to national security, even if that were his intention.
“To hand down a prison sentence to a man of Homayoun's age, suffering with advanced Parkinson's – and only because of his membership of a house-church – would be shocking were it not for Iran's proven track record of systematically persecuting Persian-speaking Christians, regardless of their age, health, or any other reasonable considerations," said Article 18's advocacy director, Mansour Borji. “We call on Iran to immediately reverse its decision, and to stop persecuting Christian converts like Homayoun and his wife Sara for the peaceful practice of their faith.”
"We call on Iran to immediately reverse its decision, and to stop persecuting Christian converts" Mansour Borji, Article 18
Iran's treatment of its Christian minority, in particular those who converted from Islam, has been criticised by the UN in recent months. In November, UN experts wrote a letter to the Iranian authorities expressing concern for their situation, listing the names of those who were imprisoned, and urging the government to protect their rights.
Iran is number eight on the Open Doors World Watch List – less than one per cent of the Iranian population are Christian, and those who are face frequent raids by the secret police, and prison sentences like those received by Homayoun and Sara. During the pandemic, many Iranian prisoners – including some imprisoned for their faith – were released, to help combat the spread of Covid-19 in packed jails. However, as this case shows, it has not stopped the authorities from imprisoning believers.
Information in this story is from Article 18.
Lord, please comfort Christians who have been imprisoned for their faith, that they may know You closely and hear You speaking powerfully to them. Bless the work Open Doors does for Iran, that its advocacy will bear fruit and encourage believers. Please give Iranian believers opportunities to tell others the good news of Jesus’ love for them.
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