IRAN: Esmaeil Narimanpour sentenced to five years in prison

Esmaeil NarimanipourChristian convert Esmaeil Narimanpour (37), who was arrested on Christmas Eve 2023 and detained for over four months, has been sentenced to five years in prison for “acting against national security by communicating with Christian ‘Zionist’ organisations”. Esmaeil, who is married with two children, is currently out on bail and is awaiting a summons to begin his sentence.

Judge Mehdi Fathinia of the third branch of the Revolutionary Court in Ahvaz, western Iran, sentenced Esmaeil on 28 May and he has twenty days to appeal.

Esmaeil was one of nearly fifty Christians arrested in a wave of raids over the Christmas period. He was arrested at his home in Dezful, 150 km north of Ahvaz, and the agents searched his home and confiscated his Christian books without a warrant. Esmaeil spent 18 days in the Ministry of Intelligence detention centre in Ahvaz before being transferred to Shiban Prison, also in Ahvaz. On 30 April he was temporarily released on bail of 700 million tomans (around €9,220).

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 January 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 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.

Recent arrests and sentences

Article 18 reports that at least 14 Iranian Christians have been arrested so far this year, but for security reasons most have not given permission to publicise their cases.

More than one hundred Christians were arrested last summer and many of them and those arrested in the Christmas crackdown have received prison sentences of between three months and five years or non-custodial punishments such as fines, travel bans and, in one case, flogging for drinking Communion wine.

Article 18 reports that twelve Christians are due to stand trial this month alone, all on charges related to the peaceful practice of their faith but “dressed up as crimes against ‘national security’”.

(Article 18, Mohabat News)

Photo: Article 18