UPDATE: On Friday 19 March Homayoun and Sara received their summons telling them to report to Tehran’s Evin Prison within days to begin serving their sentences. Their lawyer has applied for a retrial.
Christian convert Homayoun Zhaveh (62), who has advanced Parkinson’s disease, and his wife Sara Ahmadi (42) have been told to expect a summons any day to begin serving their prison sentences for belonging to a house church.
Homayoun and Sara were sentenced in November 2020 to two and eleven years in prison respectively for membership and leadership of a house church. Charges against them included “action against national security” through membership of “Zionist missionary Christianity ” groups, and Sara was charged with “running illegal groups”. They were also banned from foreign travel or membership of any social or political group for two years after their release and were given six months’ community service at a centre for people with learning difficulties.
Their appeals were rejected in December, although Sara’s sentence was reduced to eight years, and on 14 March they were informed that their case has been forwarded to the government body responsible for enforcing judgments, which may therefore summon them at any moment.
Arrested on holiday
Ministry of Intelligence agents arrested Homayoun and Sara in June 2019 when they were on holiday with several other Christian families in the city of Amol in northern Iran, near the Caspian Sea. The other Christians were also questioned, but only Homayoun and Sara were detained – first in Amol and then in Evin Prison in their home city of Tehran.
Homayoun was released after a month but Sara was held for a total of 67 days, including 33 days in solitary confinement – mostly in the Intelligence Ministry’s Ward 209 – during which time she was subjected to extreme psychological torture.
Judge Iman Afshari pronounced their sentences on 14 November 2020, following a hearing three days earlier at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. They appealed the verdict, but on 30 December judge Ahmad Zargar upheld their sentences, apart from reducing Sara’s prison sentence by three years.
The couple’s lawyer had argued in his appeal that the law was unclear on how meeting as a group of Christians could be construed as membership of an illegal organisation. “My clients have always insisted that they haven’t engaged in any actions against national security, nor do they harbour any animosity or hostility towards the government,” the lawyer stated, adding that Homayoun’s condition would prevent his taking part in any anti-security actions even should he to wish to do so.
There is deep concern as to how Homayoun will fare in prison, given his age and condition and the fact that he and Sara have not yet been offered Covid-19 vaccination.
Article18’s advocacy director Mansour Borji gave this reaction: “To hand down a prison sentence to a man of Homayoun’s age, suffering with advanced Parkinson’s – and only because of his membership of a house-church – would be shocking were it not for Iran’s proven track record of systematically persecuting Persian-speaking Christians, regardless of their age, health, or any other reasonable considerations. We call on Iran to immediately reverse its decision, and to stop persecuting Christian converts like Homayoun and Sara for the peaceful practice of their faith.”