Christian Naser Navard Gol-Tapeh was arrested on 24 June 2016 when 30 intelligence police agents raided an engagement party at a house in the Andisheh township of Karaj, near Tehran. Everyone present was detained, including three visiting Azeri Christians from Baku, Azerbaijan. Most of the Christians were released after questioning and collection of their personal information, but Naser and the Azeris were transferred to Evin prison – some sources suggested that Naser was not released as he was older than the other Christians in the group and was perceived as the leader.
The four Christians were held in solitary confinement for two months and subjected to intense interrogation. During this time, they were denied consular assistance and legal counsel. They were all charged with ‘illegal gathering, collusion and evangelism’. In September 2016, they were transferred to shared cells in Evin’s Ward 350, and they were temporarily released the following month on bail equivalent to approximately £25,500 each. The three Azeris – Bahram Nasibov, Yusif Farhadov and Eldar Gurbanov – were allowed to leave Iran in November 2016, forfeiting their bail.
At Naser’s trial in May 2017, Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh, head of the 26th branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran, charged him with ‘acting against national security through the formation and establishment of an illegal church organisation in his home’. The court convicted Naser, basing its decision on a Ministry of Intelligence report that allegedly provided evidence that he attempted to undermine national security by establishing an ‘illegal house church network’. The court refused to present the report to Naser’s lawyer Hossein Ahmadi Niaz, who had not been allowed access to any document in his case file.
On 23 May, Judge Ahmadzadeh sentenced Naser to ten years in prison, and the three Azeris were also sentenced, in their absence, to ten years each in prison. The judgments were not communicated to the four Christians until 12 June.
Naser appealed against his sentence, but on 12 November, 2017, he lost his appeal at a hearing in the Revolutionary Court in Tehran chaired by Judge Hassan Babaei, in spite of his lawyer providing numerous grounds for his innocence. The three Azeris also appealed and lost, but they are unlikely to be forced to return to Iran to serve their sentence
Lawyer Hossein Ahmadi Niaz commented, ‘My client has not broken any of the criminal code and is not guilty of his charges. All other Christians arrested with him also confirmed all of their meetings were strictly focused on their faith and worship and nothing else.’ On 20 January, 2018, Naser was admitted to section 8, hall 10 of Evin Prison to serve his ten-year sentence. In recent months Naser has been denied medical treatment for a severe gum infection. He is in great pain, and his family fears he may lose all his teeth if the authorities continue to deny him treatment.
Islamic Republic of Iran
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