First Christians Sentenced to Prison Under Iran’s New Penal Code After they Refused to Renounce Christ

Shah Mosque, Tehran, Iran. Diego Delso, Creative Commons.

Morning Star News reports the first Christians to be punished under a newly amended law in Iran aimed at halting the growth of Christianity and other religious groups were sentenced to five years in prison for spreading “propaganda” against Islam after they refused to renounce Christ, sources said.

Amin Khaki, Milad Goudarzi and Alireza Nourmohammadi, all converts from Islam, were sentenced under Article 500 of Iran’s newly amended penal code, which states that “any deviant education or propaganda that contradicts or interferes with the sacred Sharia [Islamic law] will be severely punished.”

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Members of the Church of Iran, the three men were informed on June 26 that they had each been given the maximum prison sentence allowable under the amended article and also fined 40 million tomans (US$1,600). Another member of the church, Hamet Ashouri, was told the same day that his appeal of a 10-month prison sentence on charges of “propaganda against the regime” had been denied. Ashouri is also a convert from Islam.

The three men have 20 days to appeal their verdict. Ashouri was given 10 days to report to Karaj Central Prison to start his sentence.

Along with increased prison terms, the law allows the state to take away certain basic rights, such as voting, for as long as 15 years. Religious freedom activists warned that the amendment, which was first proposed in 2020 and passed by parliament on Jan. 13, could be used to attack religious dissidents and minority groups. The amendment was signed into law by then-President Hassan Rouhani on Feb. 18 and went into effect on March 5.

An analyst for advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) said the sentence is the first sign of how the newly amended penal code may be used.

“We are still waiting to see how the amendments are going to be applied, and now we have the first indication with Amin, Milad and Alireza’s sentences,” said the analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Of course, it is up to the prosecutor, who is influenced by Iranian intelligence, to decide whether the charges are propaganda (Article 500) or action against the Islamic State (Articles 498, 499). What we can say is that someone convicted under Article 500 now faces a maximum jail term of five years rather than a typical term of six months that many Christians received previously.”

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SOURCE: Assist News Service, Michael Ireland

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