Thank you for praying for Joseph Shahbazian - he has been freed from Evin Prison after initially being sentenced to 10 years for his involvement in a house church. Please continue to pray for a full recovery from his ordeal.
Praise God! Joseph Shahbazian has been officially pardoned and released from Evin Prison in Tehran.
He was initially sentenced to 10 years in prison for acting against state security for holding church services in his home, but it was reduced to two years in May.
Iranian Christians are thankful for the release of Joseph Shahbazian and ask for prayer that the Lord will enable him to recover from his imprisonment, and that other Christians in prison or facing detention will be encouraged and strengthened.
Thank you for your prayers for Joseph. He is now back at home with his family, but he is also suffering from a serious illness – please continue to pray for his full recovery.
02 June 2023
Good news from Iran: Joseph Shahbazian, an Armenian Christian who was sentenced to 10 years in Evin Prison for belonging to a house church, has had his sentence reduced to two years.
Shahbazian was imprisoned on 28 May 2022 in the notorious Evin Prison. The initial accusations against him included acting against state security through his involvement in the home church of evangelical Christianity, inciting the population, and insulting holy things.
You may remember his story, alongside Mina Khajavi’s and Malihe Nazari’s, which we reported last June. They were among at least 38 Christians arrested in a coordinated operation by intelligence agents in the summer of 2020. Malihe Nazari was released earlier this year to be with her son, who has leukaemia – it is believed that the Supreme Court granted her release due to her son’s condition. Mina Khajavi’s sentence currently remains unchanged.
While the Supreme Court announced in February 2023 that there was no evidence presented to substantiate the accusations levelled against him, and deemed the maximum punishment of ten years unjustifiable, his acquittal has led to a reduction of his sentence rather than freedom.
"The Supreme Court have failed to uphold Shahbazian's rights as a citizen to worship peacefully." Mansour Borji, Article 18
“It is great that both the supreme and appeal court have acknowledged the unmerited and cruel maximum punishment that was handed down to Mr Shahbazaian," says Mansour Borji, advocacy director for Article 18. “However, it is disappointing that they have failed to recognise and uphold his rights as a citizen to worship peacefully and freely without the fear of prosecution. Joseph has not done anything illegal to deserve two years in prison.
“Praying or taking part in a Bible study with other Christians is every citizen’s right, according to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which emphasises that ‘everyone has the right to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance either alone or in community with others and in public or private’.”
Having already served nine months of his prison term, Shahbazian has 15 months remaining until the completion of his two-year sentence. Additionally, he has been prohibited from being a member of social and political groups for two years, and once his sentence concludes, he is to be placed in internal exile in Kahnuj city. Furthermore, he is restricted from travelling abroad for two years, though a two-year post-imprisonment exile in a remote province of south east Iran has been dismissed.
The case of Joseph Shahbazian highlights a concerning pattern within the judicial system of the Islamic Republic, where Christian citizens have faced severe punishments, including long-term imprisonment and exile. Despite the defendants’ defences and requests for reconsideration, the courts have often upheld their initial judgments without giving due consideration. An earlier appeal made by Shahbazian had been rejected, before the partial success of this appeal.
It is notable that Christian citizens have received disproportionately harsh sentences. Their alleged crimes primarily involve participating in home churches and possessing Christian literature in their homes.
The reduction in Joseph Shahbazian’s sentence is a small glimmer of hope, but it underscores the need for greater attention to the fair treatment of religious minorities in Iran. Praise God for this reduction in Joseph’s sentence, and pray that he will be freed sooner. Please keep praying for Joseph, his family and all Christians facing persecution in Iran for belonging to a church group.
Picture and information from Article 18.
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