Christian convert Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh (61) was arrested in June 2016 in a raid on an engagement party held by Christians near the Iranian capital, Tehran. In May 2017, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for “acting against national security through the formation and establishment of an illegal church organisation in his home”. Naser was admitted to Evin prison in January 2018 to serve his sentence. Four appeals for a retrial were denied and his appeal for parole (for which he should have been eligible once he had served one third of his sentence) was denied five times. Naser was eventually pardoned and released in October 2022.
LATEST NEWS (NOVEMBER 2022): Naser’s mother Sahab Fazli died on 29 November, at the age of 85. Naser told Article 18 that he thanked God for a “precious month and five days” with his mother following his release from prison.
Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh was arrested on 24 June 2016 when thirty intelligence police agents raided an engagement party at a house in the Andisheh township of Karaj, near Tehran. Everyone present was detained, including three visiting Azeri Christians from Baku. Most of the Christians were released after questioning and collection of their personal information, but Naser and the Azeris were transferred to Evin prison – some sources suggested that Naser was not released as he was older than the other Christians in the group and was perceived as the leader.
The four Christians were held in solitary confinement for two months and subjected to intense interrogation. During this time, they were denied consular assistance and legal counsel. They were all charged with “illegal gathering, collusion and evangelism”. In September 2016, they were transferred to shared cells in Evin’s Ward 350, and they were temporarily released the following month on bail equivalent to approximately €29,000 each. The three Azeris – Bahram Nasibov, Yusif Farhadov and Eldar Gurbanov – were allowed to leave Iran in November 2016, forfeiting their bail.
At Naser’s trial in May 2017, Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh, head of the 26th branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran, charged him with “acting against national security through the formation and establishment of an illegal church organisation in his home”. The court convicted Naser, basing its decision on a Ministry of Intelligence report that allegedly provided evidence that he attempted to undermine national security by establishing an “illegal house church network”. The court refused to present the report to Naser’s lawyer Hossein Ahmadi Niaz, who had not been allowed access to any document in his case file.
On 23 May, Judge Ahmadzadeh sentenced Naser to ten years in prison, and the three Azeris were also sentenced, in their absence, to ten years each in prison. The judgments were not communicated to the four Christians until 12 June.
Naser appealed his sentence, but on 12 November 2017 he lost his appeal at a hearing in the Revolutionary Court in Tehran chaired by Judge Hassan Babaei, in spite of his lawyer providing numerous grounds for his innocence. The three Azeris also appealed and lost, but they are unlikely to be forced to return to Iran to serve their sentences.
Hossein Ahmadi Niaz commented, “My client has not broken any of the criminal code and is not guilty of his charges. All other Christians arrested with him also confirmed all of their meetings were strictly focused on their faith and worship and nothing else.”
On 20 January 2018, Naser was admitted to section 8, hall 10 of Evin Prison to serve his ten-year sentence. Over the years, four appeals for a retrial were denied and his appeal for parole (for which he should have been eligible once he had served one third of his sentence) was denied five times. Unexpectedly, however, on 17 October 2022 Naser was told that he had been pardoned and was released.
Naser is single and before his imprisonment he lived with his elderly mother Sahab Fazli, for whom he was the primary carer. Other relatives stepped in to care for her while he was in prison and she died five weeks after his release.
24 June 2016 Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh was arrested when thirty intelligence police agents raided an engagement party at a house in Karaj, near Tehran. He and three visiting Azeri Christians were jailed in Evin prison, where they were held in solitary confinement for two months, interrogated, and denied consular assistance and legal counsel. They were all charged with “illegal gathering, collusion and evangelism”.
September 2016 Naser and the three Azeris – Bahram Nasibov, Yusif Farhadov and Eldar Gurbanov – were transferred to shared cells.
29 October 2016 The four Christians were temporarily released on bail equivalent to approximately €29,000 each.
6 November 2016 The three Azeris were allowed to leave Iran, forfeiting their bail.
23 May 2017 Naser was convicted of “acting against national security through the formation and establishment of an illegal church organisation in his home” and sentenced to ten years in prison.
12 November 2017 Naser lost his appeal.
20 January 2018 He was admitted to Evin Prison to serve his ten-year sentence.
Spring 2018 Naser asked for medical treatment several times for a severe and very painful gum infection, but was denied treatment by the prison authorities. His family expressed fear that he would lose all his teeth.
August 2018 Naser wrote an open letter to the authorities asking how his house church activities could be seen as anti-state.
January 2019 It was reported that Naser was well and in very good spirits, enjoying the company of several other Christians in the prison.
October 2019 Naser was denied a retrial of his case.
February 2020 Naser was informed that he had been granted a retrial.
June 2020 In early June, Naser was informed that his retrial would not take place.
August 2020 In early August, Naser developed symptoms of Covid-19. Despite being ill with fever, the only medical care he received was a few painkillers, and he was not tested. Naser is being held in Evin prison’s overcrowded Ward 8, where twelve out of seventeen prisoners randomly chosen for testing received positive results on 10 August. The same day, over two dozen of Ward 8’s sixty prisoners staged a sit-in to protest about overcrowding, inadequate medical care and insufficient Covid protection measures.
November 2020 Naser was informed that his third petition for a retrial had been rejected.
March 2021 Naser was reported to be in good spirits and really pleased with dental work he received in recent months.
19 March 2021 Naser wrote a poem to celebrate Persian New Year, Nowruz, which fell on Saturday 20 March.
22 June 2021 Naser was informed that his request for conditional release had been rejected, despite frequent assurances from prison authorities in recent months that his request would be accepted. He should be eligible for parole, having served over one third of his ten-year sentence. Naser received a handwritten letter from the Tehran prosecutor’s office informing him that his request had been rejected but giving no reason. He is eligible to make another application for parole after a month.
12 August 2021 An audio message from Naser in prison was released in which he reflected on persecution, forgiveness and justice. Separately, his mother made an emotional plea for his release in a video appeal on his 60th birthday.
October 2021 For the second time this year, Naser was refused conditional release, or even furlough. He is eligible for parole, having served over one third of his ten-year sentence, and had been led to believe conditional release was imminent following a visit by the chief prosecutor last month. Naser’s lawyer only found out about the decision when he followed up the matter with the chief prosecutor’s office on 17 October. He learned that the rejection had been signed by the prosecutor on 21 September and was told no promise of release had been made, only a promise to consider parole, which had been rejected. Naser was told he can apply again in six months’ time.
January 2022 In the first week of January, Naser’s lawyer Iman Soleimani submitted yet another petition for a retrial, telling Article 18 that none of the charges against his client had been substantiated and explaining that he had based his new petition on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that nine Christian converts sentenced to five years in prison should not have been convicted of “actions against national security” – they were released pending a review of their cases. The lawyer also expressed concern about the health of his client, who said in a Christmas message, “I cannot say that everything is fine, because the situation is getting worse every day. Our days here are repetitive. But in spite of all this, God has given me peace in my heart… and I am still joyful in the Lord, even if there aren’t many obvious reasons to rejoice.”
January 2022 In late January, Iran’s Supreme Court agreed to review Naser’s case. His lawyer Iman Soleimani confirmed that Branch 9 of the Supreme Court had accepted his latest appeal for a review of his client’s sentence, although a date for the hearing was not announced.
February 2022 On 23 February, Article 18 reported that Naser was one of four Christian prisoners in Evin prison to have fallen ill following a suspected Covid-19 outbreak in their ward. The Christians had not been tested but all experienced symptoms, with Naser’s especially severe, though improving. No Covid safety measures such as quarantining or testing were being observed in the prison, but the majority of prisoners had been vaccinated.
1 March 2022 Naser’s family was informed that his fourth appeal for a retrial had been dismissed. In a short verdict dated 19 February but only communicated to his family after repeated requests, presiding judges Alireza Rahmani and Gholamreza Amini-Mehr stated that lawyer Iman Soleimani’s request had not met the requirements of Article 474 of the Code of Criminal Procedure regarding grounds for a retrial, and “therefore the request is rejected”. Reacting to the judgment, the lawyer commented: “Unfortunately, the branches of the Supreme Court issue verdicts in an arbitrary way, without considering the rights of the accused.” He said the ruling was a contravention of Naser’s civil rights and Iranian law.
June 2022 After suffering from hearing loss in his left ear which also affected his mobility and led to several falls, Naser was admitted to Taleqani Hospital near Evin Prison for treatment and an MRI examination.
July 2022 Naser was denied parole for the fifth time. His lawyer Iman Soleimani said he had been told that Naser was being held as a “deterrent” to other Christians, and that it was believed that to release him ahead of time would send out the wrong message.
17 October 2022 Naser was told that he had been pardoned and was released from prison.
29 November 2022 Naser’s mother Sahab Fazli died, at the age of 85. Naser told Article 18 that he thanked God for a “precious month and five days” with his mother following his release from prison.
(Article 18, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Iran Human Rights Monitor, Middle East Concern, Mohabat News, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, World Watch Monitor)
Photo: Article 18