Iran’s regime sentences Christian convert to prison for “insulting Islam”

A court for the Islamic Republic of Iran sentenced a 65-year-old convert to Christianity to a three year prison term for insulting Islamic beliefs that included forwarding a message sent to his mobile phone that made fun of the mullahs who rule over Iranians.The religious freedom organization Article 18 reported Tuesday on its website that  Ismaeil Maghrebinejad, a 65-year-old convert to Christianity, has been sentenced to three years in prison for “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs.”

Maghrebinejad was sentenced under Article 513 of the Islamic Penal Code, which metes out a punishment between one and five years in prison.

Iran’s opaque justice system sentenced Maghrebinejad on January 11. He now has 20 days to appeal his prison sentence.

Article 18 said Ismaeil, who was arrested at his home in January 2019, faced two additional charges: “propaganda against the the Islamic Republic”, “membership of a group hostile to the regime”.

A judge said at a November hearing him that criminal chargeof  “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” was “applicable”, because he had created a Telegram channel in which he had “promoted evangelical Christianity,” wrote Article 18.

The January hearing dealt with “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs in the cyberspace.” Article 18 said was Maghrebinejad “was found guilty because he had forwarded a message that had been sent to his phone, which poked fun at the ruling Iranian clerics.”

Mansour Borji,Research and Advocacy Director for Article 18, told the Jerusalem Post: “These excessive sentences constitute a grave violation of Iran’s constitutional and international legal obligations to guarantee freedom of religion and belief, as well as freedom of expression. We believe these loosely defined charges are used to punish individuals for adopting a religion of their choice in accordance with article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is signatory. We call for the verdict against Mr Ismaeil Maghrebinejad to be overturned, and urge the Iranian authorities to ensure due process in this and other cases involving Christians.”

Borji also said the sentence was a “disproportionate reaction to something so ordinary.”

“The other charges that Ismaeil is facing, as well as the now-quashed charge of apostasy, related to his conversion to Christianity. This may reveal the real reason why he’s been charged for something that most ordinary Iranians do on a daily basis.”Ismaeil’s defence team had pointed out that he was not even the originator of the joke,” he added.

The US has classified the Islamic Republic as a “Country of Concern” since 1999, because its regime violates religious freedom as defined by the US International Religious Freedom Act (1998).

The State Department’s 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom and was reviewed by The Jerusalem Post.

The section on Iran read in part: “Christians, particularly evangelicals and converts from Islam, continued to experience disproportionate levels of arrests and detention, and high levels of harassment and surveillance, according to Christian NGO reports. Numerous Christians remained imprisoned at year’s end on charges related to their religious beliefs. Prison authorities reportedly continued to withhold medical care from prisoners, including some Christians, according to human rights groups.”

Article 18 wrote that Maghrebinejad “converted to Christianity nearly 40 years ago and has since been regularly harassed by Iran’s security forces, despite Iran’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, both guaranteeing freedom of religion, including the right to hold a religion of one’s choosing and to propagate that religion.”

Maghrebinejad ‘s daughter, Mahsa, told Article18 last year that ” she believed her father was being harassed in part because she and her husband, Nathan, who now live in America, continue to pastor Christians in Iran through the Internet.”

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