A detained Iranian pastor faces charges of “waging war against Allah” and is pressured to falsely confess that his evangelical church movement is involved in anti-government activities, Christian rights activists say.
Pastor Abdolreza “Matthias” Ali-Haghnejad, a leader of the Church of Iran in Karaj city near Tehran, was arrested July 5, after Iranian security forces raided his Karaj home, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Another Christian, identified as Fatemeh Torkajouri, was reportedly tried in absentia in Tehran on August 6 for “action against national security” because of her ties with the Church of Iran.
Pastor Haghnejad was charged with “Moharebeh”, the word used for warring with Allah, on August 3 following a two-hour interrogation by Judge Mohammad Yari of the Sixth Branch of the Revolutionary Tribunal, fellow Christians said.
He also spent a week in solitary confinement in a Ministry of Intelligence and National Security VEVAK) detention centre in Karaj, as part of efforts to make him confess to his denomination’s alleged “anti-government political activity,” CSW added.
The detention raised concerns that he may face a similar fate as Fatemeh Torkajouri who was detained in August 2010 and spent some two months in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison before leaving Iran in 2011.
She is the wife of Church of Iran pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, who was detained in 2010 on charges of blasphemy and allegedly suffered mistreatment while in prison.
Torkajouri was eventually released on bail and also left the country in 2011. Iranian authorities already pressure Torkajouri’s family to ensure her return, though an official verdict against her is yet to be issued, Christians said.
If she does return, Torkajouri could face violence with Iranian human rights organisations reporting that Ward 350 of Evin Prison, which housed political prisoners, has been closed down following a raid by security services on August 12.
Security agents allegedly beat and injured several prisoners and destroyed or confiscated property. A similar violent raid on the ward reportedly took place in April this year.
Following the the raid several Christian and other inmates were either transferred to other wards within Evin Prison, or to prisons elsewhere. Among them is Farshid Fathi, an Assemblies of God (AoG) church leader, who reportedly moved to Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife in a statement that his group is concerned about the crackdown on Christians and the “continuing harassment” of leaders such as “Pastor Matthias and the undue pressures being placed on the family of Fatemeh Torkajouri.”
Thomas said attempts by Iranian authorities to justify “the charge levelled against the pastor by eliciting a false confession merely underline the fact that his detention is unwarranted and unjust.”
Additionally, “Iran’s continuing insistence on classifying normal Christian behaviour in national security terms is giving rise to confused and convoluted verdicts of questionable legality,” Thomas added. “For example a group of Christians convicted in [the city of] Shiraz in 2013 was found guilty of acting against “cultural national security.”
Iranian Christians and church groups have linked the crackdown to the increasing number of Muslims who turn away from their religion, embracing Christianity instead.
Others seen as a threat to the Islamic state are also targeted. Hundreds of Iranian journalists, lawyers, political activists and ethnic and religious minorities have been sentenced to lengthy prison sentences, lashes and even execution on what their supporters call “false charges” allegedly without a fair trial.
Iranian human rights groups recently identified six judges who regularly hold trials behind closed doors lasting only a few minutes and without essential legal procedures, Thomas noted.
They “intimidate defendants, breach judicial independence by acting as prosecutors themselves and deprive prisoners of access to lawyers,” he said.
“It may be time for the international community to consider targeted sanctions against identified judges who are found to have been responsible for major miscarriages of justice that breach the fair trial principles outlined in the Iranian constitution and in international statutes to which the nation is party.”
Iran’s government has defended its policies, saying it protects national security and fights attacks against the Islamic state.