Iran has dropped capital charges against church leaders Behnam Irani, Abdolreza “Matthias” Ali-Haghnejad and Reza “Silas” Rabbani, but sentenced each of them to six years imprisonment to be served in exile in remote regions of Iran.
Initially charged with “spreading corruption on earth,” a charge that carries the death sentence, the three were instead tried for “action against national security” and “creating a network to overthrow the system”.
Ali-Haghnejad and Rabbani will serve their sentence at Minab Prison in the south on the Persian Gulf, and Irani is relocated to the northern city of Zabol on the Afghan border. The locations will make it difficult for family and friends to visit.
Irani, 43, initially arrested in 2006, was convicted of crimes against national security and sentenced to one year in prison in January 2011. After voluntarily surrendering to authorities to serve his sentence, he learned that due to a previous conviction related to his faith he would serve five additional years, for a total of six years.
This new sentence increases his time in prison to a total of 12 years. In February he underwent surgery due to health complications whilst in detention. In June he was held for long periods in solitary confinement in an intelligence and security detention centre. On at least five occasions he’s faced four-hour periods of interrogation.
He became a Christian in 1992, and, 10 years later, a pastor of a 300-strong evangelical church in Karaj, a city 12 miles (20 km) west of Tehran. He is married to Kristina, an Armenian Christian and they have two children: Rebecca, 11 and Adriel, 5.
The three belong to the Church of Iran movement. Almost all Christian activity in Iran is illegal. This ranges from evangelism to bible training, to publishing scripture and Christian books or preaching in Farsi.