Four Christians have been sentenced to 80 lashes each for drinking communion wine, and the prison sentences of six other Christians have been upheld, as a new UN report slams Iran’s human rights record.
Behzad Taalipasand, Mehdi Reza Omidi (Youhan), Mehdi Dadkhah (Danial) and Amir Hatemi (Youhanna) were convicted by a court in Rasht on October 6 on charges of drinking alcohol and possessing a receiver and satellite antenna. After receiving the verdict on 20 October, they were given ten days to appeal.
Behzad and Mehdi had previously been detained, in December 2012, by the Iranian authorities in a crackdown on house churches.
Meanwhile, six Christians have failed to get their prison sentences overturned on appeal and the ruling is now final.
Mojtaba Seyyed-Alaedin Hossein, Mohammad-Reza Partoei, Vahid Hakkani and Homayoun Shokouhi were each sentenced to three years and eight months in prison following their conviction in June. They were found guilty of attending a house church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the regime and disrupting national security.
Homayoun’s wife, Fariba Nazemian, and their 17-year-old son, Nima Shokouhi, had each received a two-year suspended prison sentence. She had been detained for eight months before being released on bail in October 2012; Nima spent 36 days in custody.
They were all arrested in a raid on a house church in February 2012. Vahid has been denied proper medical care for severe internal bleeding.
The treatment of these Christians underlines the points made in a new human rights report on Iran by special UN rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed. Published on 23 October, it condemns widespread human rights abuses, saying that, although there had been “a number of positive signals” from new President Hassan Rouhani, there was “no sign of improvement” in areas previously raised as matters of “serious concern”.
Mr Shaheed welcomed the release of a number of political prisoners but said that much more needs to be done to remedy a long list of human rights violations, which include continuing restrictions on and harassment of Christians, especially converts from Islam who are involved in the house church movement.
Iran rejected the report as “unfair” and “politically motivated”. An Iranian official from the country’s UN mission said that Mr Shaheed “has not paid sufficient notice to Iran’s legal system and Islamic culture and considers whatever he sees in the West as an international standard for the entire world”.