IRAN: Pastor Matthias Haghnejad moved to prison 1,600 km from home

Matthias HaghnejadPastor Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad (known as Matthias) has been transferred from a prison in his home city of Bandar Anzali, near Rasht in northern Iran, to a prison 1,600 km from his home and family.

On the morning of 9 July Matthias, who is a pastor in the Church of Iran, was suddenly taken to the airport in Rasht and flown to the other side of the country, without a chance to say goodbye to his wife Anahita Khademi and their daughter Hannah. He is now in prison in the remote southern city of Minab, where he has been told he must serve the remainder of his six-year prison sentence for “propagating Christianity”.

The sentence, handed down in 2012, was successfully appealed in 2014 but was reinstated in 2020. Matthias began serving his sentence in January 2022, two weeks after he was acquitted of a separate conviction of “action against national security and promoting Zionist Christianity”, for which he had been sentenced to five years in prison.

The sentence for his current conviction (for which he also received an acquittal, later overturned) stipulates that he be imprisoned in Minab, but this was not enforced until now. Iranian authorities sometimes order that detainees, especially prisoners of conscience, be imprisoned in remote places or be placed there in “internal exile” after release, as an extra punishment.

Matthias has a history of arrest dating back to 2006, but was most recently re-arrested at a Christmas gathering in December 2022 when he was on extended leave from prison. Anahita was arrested a week later and was held in Lakan Prison in Rasht until her release on bail on 28 January.

New charges

Youcef NadarkhaniSeparately, Matthias and fellow Church of Iran pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (pictured) have been summoned to face new, unspecified charges, following an official complaint by Church of Iran couple Ramin Hassanpour and Saeede Sajadpour, who accused Matthias and Youcef of “attempting to undermine national security”.

Matthias has never met Ramin and Saeede, while Youcef reportedly barely knows them, and friends believe that the complaint was made under duress. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that Ramin and Saeede, who have two sons, faced “significant pressure from the political police prior to implicating the pastors”.

The idea is to threaten to take the children away,” CSW’s source said. “This development highlights the determination of certain members within the political police to employ despicable methods in suppressing minority groups.”

Yousef went to the prosecutor’s office in Rasht on 8 July as directed but was told to go home as the judge had not turned up. He had been released from prison in February 2023 following a pardon that only covered his prison sentence, not a two-year period of internal exile to which he was also sentenced and which remains to be served.

Ramin and Saeede were themselves sentenced to five and two years in prison respectively in 2020 for “acting against national security” and “spreading Zionist Christianity” by belonging to a house church, but were out on bail when they made their accusations.

(Article 18, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Middle East Concern)

Photos: Article 18