A Christian from Iran and three from Azerbaijan have been found guilty of “missionary activities” and “actions against national security” in Iran and sentenced to ten years in prison. They are, left to right, Azeris Bahram Nasibov (38), Eldar Gurbanov (49) and Yusif Farhadov (52), and Iranian Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh (46). Arrested in June 2016, they were released on bail in October.
The Azeris, all members of “Word of Life” church in Baku, had been invited to Tehran by friends. They are unlikely to serve their sentences because they were allowed to leave Iran last November and will not be forced to return. Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh, a former Muslim, remains in Iran and will have to serve his sentence unless his appeal succeeds.
The four Christians were arrested on 24 June 2016 after security agents raided an engagement party in Tehran. Bahram Nasibov later told CBN Christian news agency that more than thirty security agents came to arrest them and immediately transferred them to Tehran’s Evin Prison. He said, “Although l had been arrested by Azerbaijan security agents many times in the past for my Christian beliefs, this one was much more difficult.”
The Christians were accused of violating the national security of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the destruction of the government’s limitations on religious activities by promoting Christianity, association with a foreign organisation (“Word of Life” church) and promoting Zionist Christianity. They were held in Evin Prison until their release on bail on 29 October, and the Azeris travelled home on 6 November.
Judge Ahmedzadeh, head of the 26th branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran, handed down the sentences during a hearing on 23 May 2017, but the judgment was not communicated to the men until 12 June and was only reported in July. The men are appealing the sentences.
A local source said, “The Azeris will only serve their sentences if they return to Iran. They will not be imprisoned in Azerbaijan for an alleged crime committed in another country. Most likely they will forfeit their bail amount and never travel to Iran again.”
For their first two months in Evin Prison, the Christians were kept incommunicado in solitary confinement and continually interrogated. During this time, they were denied consular assistance and legal counsel. In September, they were transferred to shared cells in Evin’s Ward 350.
On 1 August, the Azeris’ families released a statement: “On 22nd June 2016 our husbands and fathers – Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov – travelled to Tehran in the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were invited as guests in Iran to participate in an engagement ceremony and meet with their Iranian friends. As we discovered later, they were arrested on 24th June by security agents during an engagement ceremony and they have not been charged with any crime. Eldar (48), Yusif (51) and Bahram (37) are all married and have children. Yusif has a young son with Down’s Syndrome under his care. They have not been charged with any crime and their future is unknown to all of us. We ask all who are concerned to help our husbands and fathers to return safely to their homes!”
On 29 October the four men were released on bail and on 7 November the three Azeris were allowed to return to Baku. The family photos show Camilla and Bahram Nasibov, Yusif and Lala Farhadov with their son, and Aida and Eldar Gurbanov.
(Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Middle East Concern, Mohabat News, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, World Watch Monitor)