Sentence against Pastor Haghnejad upheld without court hearing

A five-year prison sentence delivered to Pastor Matthias Haghnejad was upheld on 25 February without a hearing, after Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei reportedly permitted the judge to bypass court procedures, according to CSW’s sources.

Pastor Haghnejad was initially sentenced following a short trial on 23 September 2019. Eight other members of the Church of Iran also received five year sentences. All of them were convicted of “endangering state security” and “promoting Zionism” and are currently being held in Evin Prison in Tehran.

Pastor Haghnejad was arrested by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard after a church service on 10 February 2019, while Shahrouz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Behnam Akhlaghi, Mehdi Khatibi, Mohammad Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar (Elisha) and Khalil Dehghanpour were detained following a series of arrests in Rasht in early 2019.

Numerous legal irregularities have been observed during their detention, including pressure from presiding Judge Mohammed Moghisheh to force some of the detainees into replacing their lawyer with a court appointed legal representative. At another hearing, Judge Moghisheh, who is notorious for miscarriages of justice, asserted that the Bible was false and called the men “apostates.” During the hearing on 23 September, the defendants’ lawyer was allowed to speak briefly; however, Judge Moghisheh allegedly did not respond to his statement and sources report that it appeared he had already made his decision.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We are deeply concerned by the lack of due process in Pastor Matthias Haghnejad’s case, and that of the eight other members of the Church of Iran, who have been sentenced alongside him. CSW believes that the charges against them are without basis and continues to call for their immediate and unconditional release.”

CSW sources have also raised concerns that the Iranian authorities are not taking appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in prisons. According to media reports, the husband of British prisoner Nazanin Zargari-Radcliffe has said that she is suffering symptoms associated with the virus, a claim which has been denied by the Iranian ambassador to the UK. Christian prisoner Ramiel Bet-Tamraz, who was sentenced to four months in prison for “spreading propaganda against the system through membership of illegal house churches”, was released from prison a few days early on 26 February, amidst concerns about the speed with which the Coronavirus was spreading inside Iran’s prison system.