It has emerged that an Armenian citizen, who was one of over 100 Christians arrested in Iran last summer, is still being held in Evin Prison, Tehran five months later.
Hakop Gochumyan (35) was visiting Iran with his wife Elissa, who is an Iranian-Armenian, and their two children aged seven and 10, when they were arrested on 15 August in Pardis, just outside Tehran.
The family was having dinner at a friend’s home when a dozen plainclothes agents of the Ministry of Intelligence raided the property. The agents confiscated personal belongings, including some Christian books, and then took the Gochumyan family back to Elissa’s grandmother’s house, where they had been staying for the summer holidays. The agents searched this property as well, before taking Hakop and Elissa away to Evin Prison, leaving their young children in the custody of an aunt.
Hakop and Elissa were then placed in solitary confinement in the notorious Ward 209 of Evin Prison, which is under the control of the Ministry of Intelligence, and subjected to intense psychological torture and back-to-back interrogation sessions, each lasting between two to five hours. Neither Hakop nor Elissa was informed of any official charges against them, in violation of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified without reservation.
Elissa was released on bail equivalent to €36,000 on 19 October, after which she returned to Armenia to be reunited with her children, who had returned home in September with a relative. Her bail had initially been set at the equivalent of €90,000 but it was reduced after her family protested that they could not afford the amount.
Speaking to Article18, Elissa said the intelligence agents had accused her of engaging in “illegal Christian activities”, but she said she did not know where the accusation stemmed from and that she and her husband had done nothing illegal, nor even engaged in any Christian activities during their visit to Iran.
Elissa is the daughter of a well-known Iranian-Armenian pastor, Rafi Shahverdian, who died in 2023, having led a church in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, since leaving Iran in 1993.
No further information is available about Hakop’s situation in prison.
Hakop and Elissa were just two of over one hundred Christians arrested between June and September 2023 in a series of arrests across eleven cities in Iran, but they are the first of the arrested Christians who have given permission for their names or photographs to be made public. The vast majority of the Christians have opted not to publicise their situation, in the hope that it may help their cases.
Several have already been sentenced to up to five years in prison on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “establishing and leading a house-church”. Some who have been released were forced to sign commitments to refrain from further Christian activities, or ordered to attend Islamic re-education sessions. Others were ordered to leave Iran.