Nine Christians have been acquitted of ‘endangering the state’ in a significant ruling by an appeal court in Iran.
The group comprises Pastor Matthias Haghnejad, Mehdi Khatibi, Behnam Akhlaghi, Mohammad Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour, Shahrouz Eslamdoust and Babak Hosseinzadeh.
They were acquitted by the 34th Court of Appeal of the Revolutionary Court on 28 February 2022, after standing trial on 22 February.
The group had previously been sentenced to five years in prison, but they were released in December and January pending an appeal.
Religious liberty organisation Open Doors UK welcomed the news. A spokesperson said, ‘Each of the men is a convert from Islam.
‘Christians from a Muslim background are most at risk of persecution in Iran, particularly from the government, who see the growth of the church as an attempt to undermine the country.
‘It is common for house churches to be raided, with leaders and members like these men given prison sentences for “crimes against national security”.
‘The tide seems to be turning, though. In November 2021, the Supreme Court ordered a review of their sentences on the basis that sharing the Christian faith in a private home is not “gathering and collusion against internal or external security”, as the original verdict alleged.
‘This was a surprising and welcome development, as was the declaration that establishing a house church and promoting Christianity are not considered crimes.
‘On 28 February, the judge who reviewed these men’s cases announced that there is no legal basis for their conviction. They have been acquitted of any crime, praise God!’
The court ruling states, ‘A sentence of criminal conviction requires judicial certainty and conclusive evidence of guilt, and members of society cannot be convicted on the basis of speculation and sentenced to imprisonment.’
The court also ruled that ‘the defendants, according to the teachings of Christianity, worshiped and praised in the house-church, and there was no positive evidence to validate the crime of acting against the security of the country in the case.’
However, three of the nine men still face separate charges relating to other incidents. So there is still a need to keep praying.
Pastor Matthias faces a six-year prison sentence for a charge dating back to 2014, for ‘acting against the security of the country by forming a group and propagating Christianity outside the church and in the house church and giving information to the enemies of Islam’.
Babak and Behnam, meanwhile, have recently been charged for video calls they made for Christian converts to be freely allowed to gather for worship.