Nine Iranian Christians released from jail

Pastor Matthias Abdulreza Ali Haghnejad from the Church of Iran was initially sentenced to five years in prison – along with eight other members of the church.

 Armenian Catholic church in Tehran. (photo credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Armenian Catholic church in Tehran.
(photo credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A church leader in Iran was among nine Christians released from Iranian prison within the last week. The release is pending a review of their sentences.

Pastor Matthias Abdulreza Ali Haghnejad from the Church of Iran was initially sentenced to five years in prison – along with eight other members of the church – for “endangering state security” and “promoting Zionist Christianity” – following a brief trial in September 2019.

Haghnejad originally appealed the sentencing in early 2020 as he hoped to avoid the Iranian prisons that had become COVID-19 epicenters, though his appeal was rejected that February without a hearing after Ayatollah Khamanei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, reportedly permitted the judge to bypass court procedures.

International human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide has followed Haghnejad’s story and advocated for his release, issuing a statement at the time of his arrest saying that “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.”

 SUPPORTERS OF the National Council of Resistance of Iran protest in Berlin against the government in Tehran. (credit: Christian Mang/Reuters) SUPPORTERS OF the National Council of Resistance of Iran protest in Berlin against the government in Tehran. (credit: Christian Mang/Reuters)

While the sentencing and its subsequent upholding seemed to be the end of the story, CSW learned in November 2021 that Iran’s Supreme Court ordered a review of the nine convicted Christians.

Haghnejad was released from prison on December 30, 2021, and is now awaiting a new trial. According to the Christian coalition Middle East Concern, the eight other Christians were released on 1 January pending a review of their sentences.

“CSW welcomes the news that Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and the Christians sentenced alongside him have been able to return home after spending nearly three years in prison,” CSW’s President and Founder Mervyn Thomas said. “However, they are still facing unfounded and excessive charges simply for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. They have committed no crimes, and we continue to call for their exoneration and to urge the Iranian authorities to end use of national security-related charges against members of the Christian community who are peaceably exercising practicing their faith,” Thomas concluded.