A Tehran Revolutionary Court has sentenced three Christian citizens to prison or exile on allegations of forming a "house church," for secret worship.
Article 18, a London-based organization that promotes religious freedom in Iran said on Thursday that Iranian-Armenian Christian Anooshavan Avedian was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 10 years of “deprivation of social rights” last month for teaching other Christians in his home.
Among his charges was "forming and running an illegal group to act against national security."
Two members of his house church, Abbas Soori, 45, and Maryam Mohammadi, 46 -- who are both converts to Christianity – were deprived of social rights for 10 years, received a fine of 500 million rials (about $2,000) and ten years of ban from membership in social and political groups as well as a two-year exile outside Tehran. They are also banned from leaving the country.
The three were arrested along with 15 other people, including Avedian’s family members in August 2020, when 30 Intelligence Ministry agents raided a gathering at Avedian’s home.
While Iran persecutes followers of the Baha’i religious community and rejects esoteric philosophies and cults, the constitution recognizes Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism – communities that have official representatives in parliament. However, churches that are allowed to operate are ethnic Christian congregations, such as Armenian and Assyrian.
These established churches are discouraged from accepting non-ethnic members.
Muslims are barred from renouncing Islam by Sharia and the punishment could be death, although the government in Iran pursues lesser punishments.