An Iranian Christian convert convicted of being a member of a “zionist” evangelical group has lost his appeal against two prison sentences he received earlier this year, according to a London-based Iranian human rights watchdog organisation and reported by Christian Post. 

Article 18 reports that Ismaeil Maghrebinejad, a 65-year-old member of the Anglican Church, was informed last week that two of the three prison sentences he received earlier this year have been upheld while one has been overturned. 

According to the watchdog group, Maghrebinejad was told last Sunday that the charge of insulting the sacred beliefs of Muslims had been overturned on appeal. 

But last Wednesday, Maghrebinejad’s two sentences for “propaganda against the state” and “membership of a group hostile to the regime” were upheld. 

Although the three sentences amounted to six years in prison, the nonprofit notes that Maghrebinejad will likely only serve a two-year sentence for “membership of a hostile group.”

Article18’s Mansour Borji said in a statement that it’s striking that the Iranian government accused an Anglican pastor of membership in a group hostile to the state. 

As the Islamic Republic ranks as one of the worst country’s in the world for Christian persecution, Borji said that “such blanket labeling is inaccurately applied to any Christian arrested for their religious activities, as the revolutionary courts try to justify their violations of religious freedom.”

Maghrebinejad was arrested at his home in January 2019. He was sentenced in January 2020 by a civil court in Shiraz to three years in prison under Article 513 of the Islamic penal code for insulting religious beliefs. 

In February, he was sentenced to an additional two years in prison for “membership of a group hostile to the regime” under Article 499 of the penal code. 

Persecution of Christian converts in Iran

The church is growing in Iran despite it being one of the most dangerous places to live as a Christian. Christians from Armenian and Assyrian churches are allowed to practise their faith openly, but they still face discrimination, surveillance, and it is illegal for them to share the Christian message with Muslims. However, those that convert from Islam to Christianity must practice their faith secretly due to the death penalty being in force. Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List reported that at least 169 Christians were arrested in the past year. The relatives of Christians often face public humiliation while their family members await trial and serve long prison sentences. The Iranian regime conducts mass arrests of Christians during the Christmas season to intimidate believers and prevent the spread of Christianity. This year was no exception. Reports indicate that at least nine Christians were arrested on 30 December 2019, on charges of “affiliation with Christian Zionists and recruitment of Muslims to home churches.” Despite Christianity being considered an existential threat to Iran, reports suggest that the number of Christian converts is growing rapidly.

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