02/22/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The two are commonly seen in pairs. Whenever Judge Ahmadzadeh singles out Christians in his courtroom, Judge Ahmad Zargar* is often not far behind. As an appellate judge, Zargar’s courts usually represent the last hope for Iranian Christians hoping to have their sentence overturned or reduced.
Like Iran’s other Revolutionary Court judges, he trained in an Islamic religious seminary and was selected for this position because of his dedication to preserving Iran’s Islamic identity. Zargar’s appellate court has the opportunity to intervene in the religious freedom abuses perpetrated by the other Revolutionary Court judges. Instead, he upholds and validates these abuses, sending a clear message to Iranian’s Christians that they can expect a denial of fairness and justice throughout every stage of the legal system.
This past summer, Zaman Saheb Fadaei was violently summoned to Evin Prison after losing his appeal in Judge Zargar’s court. Like many Christians in Iran, Fadaei was born a Muslim, but later converted to Christianity. He is from Rasht, a northern town near the Caspian Sea, where the authorities heavily target Christians by raiding house churches. Fadaei’s church was accused of receiving money from a foreign government. As a result, everyone, including Fadaei, found themselves under pressure from the regime.
Authorities raided a home he was visiting in 2017, arresting Fadaei and three other friends. His case was sent to Judge Ahmadzadeh’s court and, although he was eventually released on bail, his legal challenges continued. He received multiple prison sentences: 10 years in prison for “propagating house churches and promoting Zionist Christianity,” as well as 18 months in prison and two years in exile for “spreading propaganda against the regime.”
The court’s final verdict noted that “for Christians to claim that Jesus is Lord and that the Bible is their final authority can be perceived as an attack against Islam.”
“For Christians to claim that Jesus is Lord and that the Bible is their final authority can be perceived as an attack against Islam.”
Judge Zargar had the opportunity to protect the religious freedom of Christians by eliminating this language from the verdict. Instead, he upheld the sentence and further entrenched a dangerous precedent. Iran’s constitution claims to protect the rights of recognized Christians, but Fadaei’s verdict shows how the core beliefs of Christianity are viewed as contradictory to the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a result, Judge Zargar ensured that Fadaei would face incarceration in Iran’s most inhumane jails.
A more recent case highlights how Iran’s judiciary threatens family members of Christian leaders in order to further persecute the Church. Dr. Mike Ansari from Heart4Iran, an Iranian Christian partnership platform, explained, “Most of the arrested individuals are coerced to divulge information about their house church activities and those of their friends, under threat of criminal prosecution or arrest of family members… Therefore, the case of every arrested Iranian believer is of utmost importance.”
Shamiram Isavi Khabizeh is the wife of Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, a well-known church leader who is heavily targeted by the authorities. Both Shamiram and her son are facing charges in order to further pressure her husband. Shamiram is appealing a five-year prison sentence handed down against her by Judge Ahmadzadeh for “organizing small groups, attending seminary abroad and training church leaders to act as spies.”
It is believed that her appeal was heard before Judge Zargar on February 19, 2019. During the hearing, he ruled that her appeal would be heard alongside that of her husband and three other men sentenced with him. This is a common practice within Iran’s judiciary, further complicating an already convoluted system that has perfected its practice of abusing human rights. It is expected that this next hearing will occur after the Persian New Year in March.
Judge Zargar’s record of affirming the harsh sentences of Christians does not bode well for the cases currently active on his docket. The tactics used during his active appeal hearings add a deeper sense of concern. We must continue to pray for those like Shamiram, who are currently waiting in his court’s halls, hopeful that their appeal will have a positive outcome.
*Judge Ahmad Zargar’s name is sometimes reported as Judge Ahmad Zardar