Sara Ahmadi and Homayoun Zhaveh were acquitted and released from prison on 9 May, following a ruling at the 34th branch of the appeal court in Tehran. They had been detained in separate sections of Tehran’s Evin Prison since August 2022, serving sentences of eight and two years respectively for their house-church activities. Homayoun has advanced Parkinson’s disease and his health reportedly deteriorated while he was in prison.
Sara and Homayoun were arrested in June 2019 and in November 2020 Sara was sentenced to eleven years in prison (three for house-church membership and eight for leading the group) and Homayoun to two years. In December 2020 Sara’s sentence was reduced on appeal to eight years in prison. They were summoned to begin serving their sentences in August 2022.
Sara and Homayoun’s first two applications for a retrial were rejected but on Easter Sunday they were informed that the Supreme Court had finally ordered that their case be heard again by an appeal court.
In the ruling, the appeal-court judge said that gathering with people of one’s own faith was “natural”, that having books related to Christianity was “also an extension of their beliefs” and that there was “no evidence” that Sara and Homayoun had acted against the country’s security or had connections with opposition groups or organisations.
“The reports by the officers of the Ministry of Intelligence about organisation of home groups to promote Christianity, membership, and participation in home groups are not considered as acts against the country’s security, and the law has not recognised them as criminal activity,” the judge stated.
Article 18’s director Mansour Borji (pictured at the Church in Chains conference in 2022) responded to the news by stating: “This latest verdict demonstrates yet again the arbitrary nature of the ruling that has sent a considerable number of Christians to prison, many of them suffering from the effects of their trauma years later. For decades, intelligence institutions within the Islamic Republic have disregarded judicial processes and the law of the land. They have exercised authority and control over judges that they have installed in specific Revolutionary Courts dealing with such cases. They have abused and exploited vague legal precepts to criminalise peaceful and constitutionally lawful activities of these Christians. Unfortunately, not so many judges can be found who would so clearly acknowledge the rights of the wrongly accused Christians, and refute the unjust verdicts issued against them.
“We welcome the ruling of the appeal court, and rejoice with Sara and Homayoun, their family members, their lawyer, and all Christians around the world who supported them through prayer and advocacy during their hardship. No-one should be subjected to the torture they have endured. But in this joyous moment, we also think of other prisoners of conscience, including Christians, who continue to be detained and imprisoned on similar charges. Let’s hope for a fair judgment for them, too.”
Read Sara and Homayoun’s Prisoner Profile.
Photo: Article 18