IRAN: Esmaeil Narimanpour released on bail

Esmaeil NarimanipourChristian convert Esmaeil Narimanpour was released on bail on 30 April after over four months in detention. He spent most of his detention in Shiban Prison in Ahvaz, 150km south of his home in Dezful in western Iran.

According to Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News, Esmaeil has been charged with “acting against national security by communicating with Christian ‘Zionist’ organisations”.

Esmaeil was arrested at his home at around 6 pm on Christmas Eve 2023. The arresting agents searched his home and confiscated his Christian books, despite not having a warrant, and took him to a detention centre belonging to the Ministry of Intelligence in Ahvaz where he spent 18 days before being transferred to Shiban Prison.

On Christmas Day Esmaeil was able to call his family briefly to tell them that he was being held somewhere in Ahvaz, but when his wife and brother went to follow up on his case they were questioned and detained for several hours.

Esmaeil was one of at least 46 Christians arrested during a crackdown on house churches across Iran over the Christmas season. Several of those detained at Christmas and in a wave of arrests last summer (when over one hundred Christians were arrested in twelve cities between June and September) remain in prison and some have been given long sentences. Article 18 explains that it is not at liberty to report on their cases because many Iranian Christians fear that publicity might worsen their plight.

Forced to attend Islamic “re-education” classes

Previously, Esmaeil was one of a group of eight converts from Dezful cleared of “propaganda” charges in 2021 but forced to attend Islamic “re-education” classes in 2022. The eight converts had been detained for two days in April 2021 because of their house-church activities and were summoned three months later to answer charges of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

In a significant ruling in 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 their change of religion was not a punishable offence according to the laws of Iran and stated that they “merely converted to a different religion” and “didn’t carry out any propaganda against other groups”, adding 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.

(Article 18, Mohabat News)

Photo credit: Article 18