An Iranian Christian pastor will spend at least five years in prison after being sentenced by a judge who is well-known for being extremely unfair to those who are on trial for evangelizing.
Pastor Matthias Haghnejad was arrested in February of this year after conducting a church service. The judge presiding over his case, Judge Mohammed Moghisheh, immediately launched a vendetta against Haghnejad and four of his church members, who were also arrested.
Under Iran’s strict anti-evangelism laws, it is illegal for Iranian Christians to share their faith with non-believers.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the case judge tried to coerce the men into accepting a court-appointed lawyer, rather than continue on using their hired legal counsel. When they refused, he suspended all proceedings and placed remanded them in custody. When the trial resumed, Moghisheh lambasted the men as “apostates” and declared that the Bible “was falsified.”
Despite the clear anti-Christian bias exhibited by the official, he continued to rule over the case, eventually sentencing the men.
A source close to CSW noted that “it seemed as if the judge had already made his decision and allowed this process as a formality before pronouncing a pre-determined sentence.”
While all the men on trial, nine Christians in total, have appealed their sentence, Pastor Haghnejad and the others who were defended by Mr. Farahani have been kept in custody.
CSW said it “condemns in the strongest terms the sentences handed to these nine Christians.”
“Once again it is clear from the brevity of the trial and reported lack of interest of the presiding judge that due process was not observed, and that the judge was not impartial,” the organization added. “The charges against these Christians are excessive, completely unfounded and constitute a criminalization of a religion which the Iranian constitution purportedly recognizes. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of these nine men, and all who are detained on account of their religion or belief in Iran.”
International Christian Concern, a leading D.C.-based persecution watchdog, told Faithwire that the sentencing was “just another example of the systematic oppression imposed by the Iranian regime on Christians and religious minorities.”
“The United States and its allies must continue to make public statements about these atrocities and pressure the Iranian leadership to stop this oppression,” added ICC’s Advocacy Director, Matias Perttula.
According to Open Doors USA, there are just 800,000 Christians amongst a population of just over 82,000,0000.
“Many Christians (especially converts) have been prosecuted and sentenced to long terms in jail. Others are still awaiting trial. During this time, their families face public humiliation,” the charity noted in a factsheet. Open Doors currently ranks Iran as the 9th most oppressive place on earth in which to live as a Christian.