IRAN: Christian converts forced to take Islamic “re-education” classes

Four Christians from DezfulA group of Christian converts from Dezful in western Iran is to be forced to undertake “re-education” classes in the Islamic faith. The group includes eight converts who were cleared of any criminal offence in November. Four of them are pictured, from left: Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, Esmaeil Narimanpour and Alireza Varak-Shah.

Intelligence agents from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) called the Christians late at night on Friday 28 January and told them they must come to see them at 10 am the next morning. Ten of the Christians, including the eight cleared in November, went as instructed, despite their lawyer telling them it was against the law to be summoned over the phone. “I told my clients not to go, and to say, ‘We have a lawyer, so summon us legally,’” Iman Soleimani explained. “But they were anxious and worried.” The authorities called those who did not come to the meeting and asked why they had not attended.

The Christians were informed that as they had been “misled”, ten sessions with Islamic clerics would soon be arranged to “guide them back onto the right path”.

Mohammed Ali TorabiThe eight converts from Dezful who were cleared in November – Esmaeil Narimanpour, Alireza Varak-Shah, Mohammad Ali (Davoud) Torabi, Mohammad Kayidgap, Hojjat Lotfi Khalaf, Alireza Roshanaei Zadeh, Masoud Nabi, and Mohsen Saadati Zadeh – had been detained for interrogation in April 2021 because of their house church activities. In July, they were summoned to answer charges of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

House church leader Mohammad Ali Torabi, known as Davoud (pictured), was previously arrested in October 2017 because of his Christian activities and was detained for six weeks before being released on bail.

November ruling

On 30 November 2021, the prosecutor of the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Dezful ruled that the eight Christians had done nothing illegal and therefore could not be charged. He said that their change of religion was not a punishable offence according to the laws of Iran.

The prosecutor stated that they “merely converted to a different religion” and “didn’t carry out any propaganda against other groups” and added that while apostasy from Islam is something that can be punished under Sharia law “and in the hereafter”, it has “not been criminalised in the laws of Iran” and therefore the men could not be charged.

Revolutionary Guards increasingly involved

Article 18 reports that the IRGC is increasingly involved in the harassment and prosecution of Christians. In 2021, Revolutionary Guards were responsible for twelve of the 38 documented incidents of arrests of Christians or raids on their homes or house churches – one of those twelve incidents involved the Dezful Christians. The IRGC was responsible for their arrest, threats and charges against them, the confiscation of their property and the “re-education” classes they have been told to attend.

Article 18 points out that the IRGC is acting outside the bounds of the law by refusing to accept the November ruling of the prosecutor of the Civil and Revolutionary Court of Dezful.

(Article 18)