Iranian authorities in the city of Karaj have sentenced three Christian converts to five years in prison, then reduced to three years on a conditional appeal but with the requirement of weekly monitoring for “propaganda” against the state for having abandoned Islam.
The verdict was delivered on August 22, 2021. According to reports from London-based militant NGO Article18, which denounces violations of religious freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the three converts are Milad Goudarzi, Ameen Khaki, and Alireza Nourmohammadi.
Among the charges which led to their conviction are “spreading false propaganda” against the state and “deviant educational activities in opposition to Islam,” that is, professing a faith other than the Muslim faith. The trial verdict also imposed a fine of approximately $1,500 on each.
The judges then granted them bail with payment of nearly $9,000. They will have to report to the police station at least once a week for the next six months.
In November 2020, security forces raided their home and confiscated many personal items, including computers, cell phones, and religious books. At the end of the trial, investigators returned the personal effects, but the Christian books remained under judicial seizure.
According to Iranian law, evangelism, missionary work, and conversion to Christianity can constitute a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The distribution of Christian literature in Persian is illegal.
Officially, there is no crime of apostasy in the penal code (abolished in 1994) and the last execution for this crime dates back to 1990. However, judges can still convict a suspect for abandoning Islam on the basis of their judgment on fatwas - religious edicts written by experts in Islamic law.
A practice which shows how the abandonment of Islam is still considered a serious offense in this country which wants to be considered as being tolerant. In fact, death often awaits the one who converts, through discreet executions, which are sometimes the act of the family of the convert.
The Islamic radicalization affecting neighboring Afghanistan is certainly not going to improve matters and risks rekindling anti-Christian persecution.