Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been taken to Evin Prison in the capital, Tehran, after a violent raid on his home in the northern city of Rasht on Sunday (22 July).
The pastor was sentenced to ten years in prison in July of last year, alongside three members of his congregation, and had been expecting a summons to serve his sentence, as World Watch Monitor reported last month.
However, rather than being summoned, as is customary practice, plain-clothed officers forced their way into the church leader’s home early on Sunday morning after his teenage son Danial had opened the door, Kiaa Aalipour from London-based advocacy organisation Article 18 told World Watch Monitor.
“The officers asked for Youcef. When Danial wanted to call his father the officers attacked him with an electroshock weapon and incapacitated Danial. When Pastor Youcef came, they also attacked him with an electroshock weapon. Then Pastor Youcef was beaten up by the forces, despite the fact that neither he, nor his son, had offered any resistance,” Aalipour said.
Christian Solidary Worldwide’s Chief Operating Officer Scot Bower condemned the “excessive force used by the Iranian authorities … and particularly the unwarranted violence aimed at his son”.
The pastor called his family yesterday (23 July) from the notorious Evin Prison, where he is being held in “quarantine” on a ward where conditions are known to be unsuitable and unhygienic, Aalipour said, adding that “prison authorities usually keep prisoners in this ward for punishment purposes”.
In July last year Pastor Nadarkhani and church members Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Saheb Fadaie and Mohammad Reza Omidi – who are still waiting for their own summons* – were convicted of “acting against national security” by “promoting Zionist Christianity” and running “house churches”. (The maximum sentence for the charge of acting against national security is six years in prison.) They appealed their sentences before the Revolutionary Court on 14 December but were unsuccessful.
Nadarkhani and Omidi were also sentenced to two years’ internal exile. Both will serve this sentence in the south of Iran, far away from their families in Rasht.
Nadarkhani has been arrested and imprisoned several times in recent years. He previously served almost three years in Rasht’s Lakan Prison for apostasy, a charge for which he once faced the death sentence, before his release in 2012.
Miles Windsor of advocacy group Middle East Concern commented recently that prison terms seemed to be getting longer for Iranian Christians.
“Whilst Christians have consistently been put in prison for their faith in Iran in considerable numbers, the length of the sentence has seemed to have increased in the recent year or so,” Windsor told Christian website Mission Network News in May.
*Saheb Fadaie and Mohammad Reza Omidi were arrested in the evening of 24 July, and Yasser Mossayebzadeh in the morning of 25 July. They have also been taken to Evin Prison.