Iran’s revolutionary court sentenced 18 Christian converts on charges that include evangelism, propaganda against the regime, and creating house churches to practice their faith. The sentences totaled almost 24 years (the lack of transparency in Iran’s tightly controlled judicial system does not allow for a breakdown of individual sentences). The defendants were also barred from organizing home church meetings and given a two-year ban from leaving Iran.
The Christians, many of whom were arrested in 2013, were sentenced in accordance with Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, which states that “Anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations, shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”
According to a 2015 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report, “Over the past year, there were numerous incidents of Iranian authorities raiding church services, threatening church members, and arresting and imprisoning worshipers and church leaders, particularly Evangelical Christian converts…. Since 2010, authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 500 Christians throughout the country.”
Christians make for less than one percent of Iran’s Shia Muslim majority population.
“The Iranian regime’s systematic persecution of Christians, as well as Baha’is, Sunni Muslims, dissenting Shi’a Muslims, and other religious minorities, is getting worse not better,” said U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in a statement. “This is a direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to de-link demands for improvements in religious freedom and human rights in Iran from the nuclear negotiations.”