When Iranian authorities requested to see a Christian couple in August, the couple, who are both members of a house church, thought the meeting would be about the return of some of their belongings confiscated earlier by the Islamic regime. Instead, Homayoun Zhaveh and his wife Sara Ahmadi were detained in Tehran's Evin Prison.
The prison has a notorious reputation for its harsh treatment of people deemed political enemies of the state, human rights organizations told Morning Star News.
"Friends are concerned about their well-being, especially as Homayoun suffers from advanced Parkinson's disease," Christian Solidarity International (CSI) said in an Oct. 6 statement.
CSI and other organizations have called for prayer for Zhaveh, 63, and Ahmadi, 44.
The couple was first arrested in June 2019 on suspicion of belonging to an "illegal organization," with Zhaveh spending a month in Evin Prison and Ahmadi held there for 67 days — half the time in solitary confinement, according to Middle East Concern.
According to the religious freedom organization, in November 2020, Sara was sentenced to 11 years in prison for her alleged role in leading a house church and Homayoun to two years for being a member of the house church. The sentence also included a two-year ban on foreign travel, a two-year ban on membership in any social or political group, and six months of community service.
At an appeal hearing in December 2020, the convictions were upheld, but Sara's prison sentence was reduced to eight years, according to MEC. Their lawyer requested a retrial, but the Supreme Court refused the application in June 2021.
Later that same month, the couple arrived at Evin Prison located in northern Tehran, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were told they could return home for the time being.
A little over a year later on Aug. 13, 2022, Homayoun and Sara answered a summons to the prison, expecting to have confiscated property returned. Instead, they were both detained, according to the MEC.
USCIRF Urges State Department to Recognize Iran's Violations of Religious Freedom
As CBN News reported in August, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urged the U.S. State Department to list Iran as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its ongoing violations of religious freedom.
In its 2022 annual report titled "Religious Propaganda in Iran", the USCIRF highlights efforts by Iran's government to spread false information and encourage a negative opinion about Christianity and other religious faiths.
Targeting religious minorities over the alleged betrayal of Iran is just one element of the Islamic Republic's nationalist propaganda.
According to the report, disinformation is spread by the Iranian government by using media outlets, which strive to ensure that all content supports the government's interpretation of Ja'afri Shi'a Islam.
Among those targeted are Christian converts, who are described as belonging to an "Evangelical Zionist cult."
For example, a January 2021 news article recounted that members of a "Zionist network" across several regions were arrested. It alleged that the network was "creating moral depravity" and "promoting religious conversion." In the previous two years, "networks connected to the Christian movement" had involved "widespread security efforts" in the country, the article continued.
USCIRF Commissioner Sharon Kleinbaum told CBN News that propaganda against Christian converts can have a harmful effect.
"These accusations invoke geo-political conflicts and painful historical events for Iran's public, which may turn many people against Iran's Christian community and make Iranian Christians less safe," Kleinbaum explained.
The report also reveals that the Iranian government uses fake claims of national security as a reason to prosecute Christians and other religious minorities.
In addition to Christian converts, the USCIRF report highlights tactics that Iran's government uses against Jews, Sunni Muslims, Gonabadi Sufis, and Baha'is.
Open Doors USA, a watchdog group that monitors religious freedom abuses in over 60 countries, lists Iran as the ninth-worst country in the world for Christian persecution in its 2022 World Watch List.