One Iranian and three Azerbaijani Christians have been found guilty of “missionary activities” and “actions against national security” in Iran and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
World Watch Monitor understands that the three Azerbaijanis – Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov – are unlikely to serve their sentences because they were allowed to leave Iran in November last year and will not be forced to return. However, the Iranian – Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh, a convert from a Muslim background – remains in Iran and will have to serve his sentence unless successful with his appeal.
“The Azeris will only serve their sentences if they return to Iran,” a local source explained. “They will not be imprisoned in Azerbaijan for an alleged crime committed in another country. Most likely they will forfeit their bail amount and never travel to Iran again.”
“They will not be imprisoned in Azerbaijan for an alleged crime committed in another country. Most likely they will forfeit their bail amount and never travel to Iran again.”
The four men were arrested in June last year after security agents raided a wedding party in Tehran. They spent four months in prison, but were released on bail in October, after which the Azerbaijanis travelled home.
They were finally sentenced in May 2017, but their verdict was not communicated to them until the mid-June and only now is it being reported.
The charges against the men were described as “unwarranted and unjustifiable” by Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. “We are deeply concerned for Mr Gol-Tapeh in particular, who [being in Iran] is likely to bear the brunt of a sentence that was clearly issued on a punitive rather than on a legal basis,” he added.
News of their sentencing comes during the same week that three other Iranian Christians received lengthy jail terms for offences relating to evangelism and acting “against national security”. Victor Bet-Tamraz, who led the Tehran Pentecostal Assyrian Church until its closure by Iran’s Interior Ministry in 2009, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, as was convert to Christianity Hadi Asgari. Fellow convert Amin Afshar Naderi was given 15 years.
The four men were first arrested on 24 June 2016. For two months, they were kept incommunicado in solitary confinement and continually interrogated in Tehran’s Evin prison. During this time, they were denied consular assistance and legal counsel.
During their incarceration, the families of the Azerbaijanis released a statement, saying: “On 22nd June 2016 our husbands and fathers – Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov – travelled to Tehran in the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were invited as guests in Iran to participate in an engagement ceremony and meet with their Iranian friends. As we discovered later, they were arrested on 24th June by security agents during an engagement ceremony and they have not been charged with any crime. Eldar (48), Yusif (51) and Bahram (37) are all married and have children. Yusif has a young son with Down’s Syndrome under his care. They have not been charged with any crime and their future is unknown to all of us. We ask all who are concerned to help our husbands and fathers to return safely to their homes!”
Following their release on bail, their families said they hoped “the Iranian regime will treat all prisoners with dignity and justice; that people will no longer be penalised on account of their faith or religious activities”.