By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
TEHRAN (Worthy News) - An Iranian pastor has been sentenced to ten years in prison for running an “illegal” house church in Tehran, the capital, Worthy News learned Thursday.
Anooshavan Avedian, an Iranian-Armenian, was also sentenced to ten years of “deprivation of social rights,” including restrictions on work after he was released, trial observers said.
Two members of the church, Abbas Soori and Maryam Mohammadi, both converts from Islam, avoided jail but also received up to ten years’ deprivation of rights.
Additionally, Soori and Mohammadi were handed a two-year ban on traveling abroad or joining “any social group” and a two-year exile from Tehran province, Christians confirmed. They were also fined each 50 million tomans (some $1,700).
Anooshavan, 60, was convicted by Tehran’s 26th Branch of the Revolutionary Court of “establishing and leading an illegal group” to " disrupt the security” of Iran.
The pastor was involved in “educational and propaganda activities contrary to and disturbing to the holy religion of Islam,” the court claimed. Soori, 45, and Mohammadi, 46, were convicted as members of the “illegal” house church. All three have appealed against the verdict, Christians said.
The three Christians were detained after a raid by security forces on the house church in August 2020, confirmed advocacy group Barnabas Fund which closely followed the case. “Each was held for a period in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where they were subjected to solitary confinement and interrogation,” the group said.
Other church members were reportedly forced to sign official documents promising that they would not attend further house church meetings. They also cannot make contact with any other Christians, according to sources familiar with the situation.
The house church was started following the closure of a Farsi (Persian)-speaking church in Tehran in 2013, Christians said.
Unlike the historic Armenian- and Assyrian-speaking Christian communities, Farsi-speaking Christians are converts from Islam. They are regarded as “apostates,” the word used for those who abandon Islam, and therefore punishable according to Islamic law, experts say.
Although, as an Armenian Christian, he could legally worship in his own language, “it is illegal for Anooshavan Avedian to minister to Farsi-speaking believers,” noted Barnabas Fund. He is also not allowed to conduct church services in Farsi, the national language of Iran, Worthy News established.
Christians urged prayers for the three Christians and success in their appeals, as well as the right for Farsi-speaking believers to worship in their language freely.
It also added pressure on their families. Pastor Avedian and Soori are married, with two children each, while Mohammadi is engaged, Christians said.
The government has in the last defended its crackdown on devoted Christians.
Tehran views the church growth in Iran as an attempt by Western countries to undermine Islam and Iran’s Islamic leadership.
House groups and churches comprised of converts from Muslim backgrounds are often raided.
Their leaders and members have been detained and sentenced to long prison years, often on chards of “crimes against national security.” Iran ranks 9th on the annual World Watch List of 50 countries where advocacy group Open Doors says it is the most challenging to be a Christian.
Despite the crackdown, at least 800,000 Christians are living among Iran’s Muslim majority population of some 87 million people, according to conservative estimates.