Christian converts Sara Ahmadi (44) and her husband Homayoun Zhaveh (who is almost 64 and has advanced Parkinson’s disease) have been detained in Tehran’s Evin prison.
They were sentenced in 2020 to eight and two years respectively in prison for their house-church activities, but when they presented themselves at the prison in June 2021 to begin serving their sentences they were told they could go home.
Last Saturday (13 August), Sara and Homayoun answered a summons to an administrative office of Evin prison, expecting to receive back confiscated property, but instead were detained. All that is known about their situation is that Homayoun has been able to call relatives to ask them to come to the prison to collect the car in which he and Sara arrived.
Article 18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, expressed dismay and concern at the surprising development. “We can only speculate about why this has happened,” he said, “but it is nevertheless extremely concerning that an elderly man with an extremely serious health condition has been detained, and there is every chance, unfortunately, that the stress of their detention will make Homayoun’s condition worse.
“We call on the Iranian authorities to immediately release both Homayoun and Sara, who is not only his wife but also his primary carer, and to stop persecuting and prosecuting Christian converts only because of their beliefs and the peaceful outworking of these beliefs.”
Homayoun and Sara, who live in Tehran, were first arrested in June 2019 while they were on holidays with several other Christian families in the northern city of Amol near the Caspian Sea. The other Christians were also questioned, but only Homayoun and Sara were detained – first in Sari, near Amol, and then in Evin prison.
Homayoun was released on bail after a month, but Sara was held for a total of 67 days, including 33 days in solitary confinement, during which time she was subjected to extreme psychological torture.
In November 2020, Judge Iman Afshari sentenced Sara to eleven years in prison for an alleged leadership position in their house-church and sentenced Homayoun to two years in prison for membership of the group. 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 mental disabilities.
At an appeal hearing in December 2020, Sara’s sentence was reduced to eight years, but all other aspects of their sentences were upheld.
They were summoned to prison in March 2021 to begin serving their sentences but their lawyer applied for a retrial at Iran’s Supreme Court and they remained out of prison while they waited. However, on 16 May 2021 those responsible for securing their release on bail received a written warning that if the couple did not appear at Evin prison within thirty days the property deeds submitted as collateral would be forfeited. Sara and Homayoun’s bank accounts were then frozen.
On 9 June 2021, Sara and Homayoun were notified that the Supreme Court had rejected their appeal for a retrial and on 15 June they presented themselves at Evin prison to begin serving their sentences – only to be told they could return home.
After over a year of wondering what the future held and whether they would be summoned again, their worst fear has come to pass.