By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
TEHRAN (Worthy News) - Iranian Christians say they “are thankful” that Christian convert Naser Navard Goltapeh’s jail the sentence “will be reviewed” by Iran’s Supreme Court after years of prayers and campaigns, Worthy News learned Monday.
Naser, along with three Azerbaijani Christians, was detained in June 2016 at a private celebration in Tehran, according to Christians familiar with the case.
In May 2017, the four were each sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for “acting against national security through forming and establishing illegal house churches.”
“An appeal that November was unsuccessful. The Azerbaijanis left the country while on bail. In early January 2018, Naser started serving his term in [Tehran’s] Evin Prison,” said advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
“Having served a third of his sentence, Naser’s request for parole was twice refused. However, in an encouraging development, an appeal for his sentence to be reviewed has been accepted,” MEC told Worthy News.
It was not immediately clear when the review would occur, but it was conducted by Branch 9 of the Supreme Court, Christians said.
In another case, the five-year prison sentences of nine Christians from Rasht were reportedly scheduled for review on February 22 by Branch 34 of the Appeal Court in Tehran, the capital.
They were sentenced for activities linked to their Christian faith and involvement in house churches, Christians said.
The review of their case comes after a November 2021 Supreme Court ruling reportedly said that “preaching Christianity” and promoting “evangelical-Zionist” Christianity through house-churches “do not constitute a crime against national security.”
Iranian Christians said in comments shared with Worthy News that they “are thankful for the decisions to review the sentences but are also wary of the outcome.”
The courts’ handling of similar cases appears inconsistent. Individual prosecutors and judges interpret the penal code's provisions differently, according to sources familiar with their thinking.
Iranian Christians said they “request prayer that the judicial reviews overturn the sentences,” added MEC, closely following the cases.
They also hope that “precedents will be set to allow the peaceful practice of Christianity in Iran under religious freedom…under international law,” MEC added.
Christians comprise at least some 800,000 people among Iran’s Muslim majority population of more than 84 million, according to conservative estimates.
Many of the believers being targeted by authorities in the strict Islamic nation are former Muslims who turned to faith in Christ, Worthy News established.
Hamed Ashouri, sentenced to ten months imprisonment for Christian activities, said he did not regret suffering for his faith.
He stressed in published remarks that he refused to inform authorities on other Christians, resulting in him being beaten by the authorities. “I thank God for considering me worthy of enduring this persecution because of Him.”
Iran ranks number 9 on the annual World Watch List of 50 nations where advocacy group Open Doors says Christians suffer most for their faith.