From left: Saheb Fadaie, Youcef Nadarkhani, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Mohammad Reza Omidi.
From left: Saheb Fadaie, Youcef Nadarkhani, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Mohammad Reza Omidi. (Article 18)

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called for the “immediate and unconditional” release of an Iranian pastor and three of his church members, after they were taken to prison last week to serve ten-year sentences for “acting against national security” by “promoting Zionist Christianity” and running “house churches”.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and church members Saheb Fadaie, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Mohammad Reza Omidi were sentenced in July of last year and had been expecting a summons to serve their sentences, as is customary practice. But, instead, plain-clothed officers carried out a series of violent raids on the Christians’ homes – something USCIRF called a “new miscarriage of justice”.

The four Christians should be released and “permitted by the Iranian government to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief”, said USCIRF chair Tenzin Dorjee.

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.

International Christian Concern noted that, in all, eight Iranian Christians had judicial action taken against them last month, despite President Hassan Rouhani’s recent claim that “Christians have the same rights as others do”.

On top of the action taken against the four Christians from Rasht, Ramil Bet-Tamraz, son of the pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, and Amir Saman Dashti were both sentenced to four months in prison in July, while a Christian mother and son were arrested in Kermanshah for evangelising.

“The persecution of Christians in Iran is increasingly building as the regime struggles to maintain its grip over the hearts and minds of its citizenry,” said ICC’s Claire Evans. “It is also no coincidence that most of these eight Christians targeted in July have been sent to Evin Prison, Iran’s notorious ‘torture factory’. The government continues to disown religious freedom and human rights, despite its own laws saying otherwise.”