Malihe Nazari (50) is an Iranian Christian convert who is serving a six-year prison sentence for “acting against national security by promoting Zionist Christianity” through leadership of a house church. She was arrested in a series of coordinated raids on house-church gatherings and Christians’ homes in June 2020 and after losing her appeal began serving her sentence in Tehran’s Evin prison in August 2022. Malihe was released on 24 April 2023 after the Supreme Court agreed to pardon her because of her son’s serious illness.
LATEST NEWS (APRIL 2023): Malihe was released from prison on 24 April. The Supreme Court agreed to pardon her because her son Mohammad-Hossein has been seriously ill with leukaemia and she was released two days before his 25th birthday.
Malihe Nazari is a leader in a women’s house church in Tehran called Yek Delaan or “One-Hearted Women”, which has dozens of members. She was arrested at her home in Tehran’s Sadeghiyeh district on 30 June 2020 as part of a series of coordinated raids in Tehran, Karaj and Malayer carried out over two days by intelligence agents from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. They arrested at least 13 house-church Christians and interrogated many others.
During the raid, Malihe’s house was searched and personal belongings were confiscated including her computer, mobile phone and books. The agents took her away and told her family that she would be brought to Evin prison. Family members who went to visit Malihe next day were not able to see her, but the following day she called home briefly to tell them she was OK.
On 22 July 2020 Malihe was moved to Qarchak Women’s Prison in Varamin, southeast of Tehran. One of the most notorious prisons in Iran with very poor conditions, it is located in the remote desert, virtually inaccessible to prisoners’ families, and is intended for women with criminal records (robbery, murder, drugs). Malihe’s bail was set at the exorbitant figure of three billion tomans (approximately €140,000) – an unprecedented bail that was twice the previous highest bail demanded for a Christian prisoner of conscience. Iranian-Armenian house-church leader Joseph Shahbazian, who was arrested at a house-church gathering in Tehran during the same series of raids, also had bail set at three billion tomans.
Neither family could raise the bail and they pleaded for a reduction. On 22 August 2020 Joseph was released on a reduced bail of two billion tomans, while Malihe was released on 5 September 2020 on bail of around one billion tomans.
Convicted and sentenced
On 16 October 2021 Malihe, Joseph and five Christian converts who had also been arrested during the coordinated raids (Mina Khajavi, Salar Eshraghi Moghadam, Farhad Khazaee, Somayeh Sadegh and Masoumeh Ghasemi) were summoned to give their final defence before a Tehran prosecutor. Their lawyer Iman Soleimani reported that the charges read out to them at the prosecutor’s office included: “promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity”, “weakening faith in Muslim clerics”, “membership of opposition groups [to] disrupt national security”, “weakening the foundation of the family” and “attracting Muslims to house churches”.
On 29 May 2022 the seven Christians were tried at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran. They were all charged with “acting against national security by promoting Zionist Christianity” through leadership or membership of a house church, and all denied the charge. Malihe could not attend the hearing because she was visiting her son, who has leukaemia, in hospital.
During the four-hour hearing Judge Iman Afshari (head of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, who has gained a reputation for severe sentencing of Christians) reportedly threatened, intimidated and ridiculed the defendants and their lawyers. He used harsh and sarcastic language to humiliate the Christians and denigrate their beliefs and when their lawyer objected Judge Afshari replied that he was “only joking”. He reportedly failed to act impartially, spoke in defence of the charges and failed to ask the prosecutor’s representative any questions about the legality of the case despite repeated objections from the Christians’ lawyer.
Judge Afshari pressurised the Christians to recant their faith for a reduction in their sentences and also offered them lighter sentences in exchange for blaming Joseph Shahbazian for their conversions. When they refused, he threatened to increase their sentences.
On 7 June 2022 Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Malihe to six years in prison for “founding or leading an organisation that aims to disrupt national security“. Mina Khajavi, like Malihe, was given a six-year prison sentence for house-church leadership and Joseph was sentenced to ten years in prison for “founding or leading an organisation that aims to disrupt national security”. The other four converts were sentenced to between one and four years’ imprisonment for house-church membership, but they have been permitted to pay fines instead of going to prison.
On 17 August 2022 the Appeal Court of Tehran rejected the Christians’ appeals without a hearing because Judges Abasali Hozavan and Khosrow Khalili Mehdiyarji said the defence had failed to meet the necessary criteria for the appeal to be considered.
Lawyer Iman Soleimani told Article 18 that the judgment had been reached “with a complete disregard for the extensive and well-reasoned defence offered”. He said the court proceedings showed a “disregard of absolute legal and juridical principles, such as the principles of equal opportunity [to dispute accusations], legality of crimes and punishments, and right to a defence.”
On 30 August 2022 Malihe was taken into custody to begin serving her sentence in Evin prison, the same day that Joseph began serving his sentence in the same prison. Mina Khajavi received a summons to prison but was permitted to return home because she had recently broken her leg in three places in a car accident.
In February 2023 the Supreme Court granted a retrial of Joseph’s case. Malihe was not part of the retrial bid, but in April 2023 the Supreme Court agreed to pardon Malihe because of her son’s serious illness and she was released from prison on 24 April.
Malihe is married with two sons aged 25 and 18. Her elder son Mohammad-Hossein has been undergoing treatment for leukaemia since 2018. At one point he was believed to have recovered but he then suffered a recurrence.
30 June 2020 Malihe Nazari was arrested at her home in Tehran as part of a series of coordinated raids on in Tehran, Karaj and Malayer. Her home was searched, personal belongings were confiscated and Malihe was taken to Evin prison.
2 July 2020 Malihe was able to call home briefly to tell her family she was OK.
22 July 2020 Malihe was moved to the notorious Qarchak Women’s Prison in Varamin, southeast of Tehran. Bail was set at the exorbitant figure of three billion tomans (approximately €140,000), which her family could not raise.
5 September 2020 Malihe was released on a reduced bail of around one billion tomans.
16 October 2021 Malihe and six other Christians who were also arrested during the coordinated raids were summoned to give their final defence before a Tehran prosecutor.
29 May 2022 The seven Christians were tried at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran. They were all charged with “acting against national security by promoting Zionist Christianity” through leadership or membership of a house church. Malihe could not attend the hearing because she was visiting her son in hospital.
7 June 2022 Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Malihe to six years in prison for “founding or leading an organisation that aims to disrupt national security“. The other Christians were given prison sentences of various lengths; several have been permitted to pay fines instead of serving prison terms.
17 August 2022 The Appeal Court of Tehran rejected the Christians’ appeal without a hearing.
30 August 2022 Malihe was taken into custody to begin serving her sentence in Evin prison.
March 2023 Malihe was given a three-day leave from Evin prison to visit her sick son. She was asked to return to prison on Iranian New Year’s Day (Nowruz), which this year fell on 20 March.
24 April 2023 Malihe was released from prison after the Supreme Court agreed to pardon her because of her son Mohammad-Hossein’s serious illness. She was released two days before his 25th birthday.
(Article 18, Mohabat News, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom)