Facing a final appeal hearing on Jan. 15 in Tehran, two Iranian Christians were asked by judges Hassan Babaee and Ahmad Zargar to renounce their faith, which they refused. In response, the judges told them to expect a verdict in their case soon, according to the website CSW.
Last September, Saheb Fadaie and Fatemeh Bakhteri were charged and convicted of "spreading propaganda against the regime." Both were sentenced to service 12 to 18 months in prison. Fadaie also received an additional two years in internal exile in Nehbandan, a remote area close to the border with Afghanistan.
Local sources reported that the verdict confirming the sentences claimed that discussions of Christian doctrine held in house churches were considered attacks on Islam.
Fadaie is currently serving a 10-year sentence in prison. As CBN News reported, he was arrested with fellow Church of Iran members, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi and Yasser Mossayebzadeh, on 13 May 2016, during a series of raids by security agents on Christian homes in the city of Rasht. In July 2017, all four received 10-year sentences 'for acting against national security' by 'promoting Zionist Christianity', according to CSW.
In May 2018, judges Babaee and Zargar upheld the four men's sentences.
The judges are both alleged to have played roles in the crackdown on freedom of expression in Iran.
"The conviction of Mr. Fadaie and Ms. Bakhteri for asserting Christian doctrine is not only a grave violation of their right to espouse a religious belief of their choosing but also criminalizes the Christian faith, which the Iranian constitution purports to recognize," CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a press release. "It is deeply concerning that Judges Babee and Zargar are presiding over their appeal, especially in view of the unacceptable demand for them to renounce their faith; the rejection by these judges of a previous appeal involving Mr. Fadaie, and the allegations that both judges are implicated in human rights violations."
"We call for the verdict against Mr. Fadaie and Ms. Bakhteri to be overturned, and urge the Iranian authorities to ensure due process in cases involving religious minorities," Thomas continued. "We also continue to urge the Iranian government to cease all forms of harassment and intimidation of peaceable religious communities, and to release all those detained in connection with their religion or belief."
CSW's team of specialists advocates work on over 20 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief is upheld and protected. With more than 30 years of experience, the organization seeks to challenge and change the laws, behaviors, and policies which lead to abuses of the right to freedom of religion and belief.