Iranian Christians are thankful that Christian convert Naser Navard Goltapeh’s prison sentence will be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Naser, along with three Azerbaijani Christians, was arrested in June 2016 at a private celebration in Tehran. 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 Evin Prison.
Having served a third of his sentence, Naser’s request for parole has been twice refused. However, in an encouraging development, an appeal for his sentence to be reviewed has been accepted. It is not known when the review will take place, but it will be conducted by Branch 9 of the Supreme Court.
In a separate case, the five-year prison sentences against nine Christians from Rasht is scheduled for review on 22 February by Branch 34 of the Appeal Court in Tehran. This is due to a November 2021 ruling by Branch 26 of the Supreme Court stating that preaching Christianity and promoting “evangelical-Zionist” Christianity through house-church gatherings do not constitute a crime against national security.
Iranian Christians are thankful for the decisions to review the sentences but are also wary of the outcome. The courts’ handling of similar cases appears inconsistent, as individual prosecutors and judges interpret the provisions of the penal code quite differently. Iranian Christians request prayer that the judicial reviews will overturn the sentences and legal precedents will be set to allow the peaceful practice of Christianity in Iran in accordance with religious freedom as understood under international law.