Iranian pastor sent to prison over 1,000 miles from his home

Pastor Matthias Haghnejad. (Photo: Christian Solidarity Worldwide)

An Iranian pastor has been relocated to a prison over 1,000 miles from his residence in the country’s southern region after he was recently arrested and facing contested accusations of undermining state security.

Pastor Matthias (Abdulreza Ali) Haghnejad of the Church of Iran has been transferred to a prison in Minab city, Hormozgan province, a significant distance from his home in Bandar Anzali, the United Kingdom-based human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports.

Pastor Haghnejad and another church leader, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, are accused of attempting to destabilize the state, a charge brought against them after a couple from their denomination allegedly incriminated them under duress.

Pastor Haghnejad was previously acquitted of similar charges in 2014, only for them to be reinstated in January 2022. These allegations were brought back to life on Nov. 25, 2019, when political police received permission from then-chief justice and Iran’s current President Ebrahim Raisi to overturn a Supreme Court decision in Pastor Haghnejad’s favor, according to CSW’s sources.

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas expressed concern over the repeated legal troubles faced by the pastors.

“CSW is appalled by the relentless effective judicial persecution of Pastors Haghnejad and Nadarkhani,” Thomas said, emphasizing that this is a clear violation of Article 14:7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Iran is a signatory.

Thomas urged Iran to respect the right to freedom of religion or belief for all citizens, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Pastor Haghnejad and others imprisoned due to their faith.

Earlier this month, CSW reported on Pastor Nadarkhani’s situation, mentioning the new charges against him and Pastor Haghnejad. The accusations came from the couple, identified as Ramin Hassanpour and Saeede Sajadpour, who political police may have pressured.

Thomas said at the time, “[These charges] reportedly emerged after psychological pressure was exerted on their accusers, who only have a passing acquaintance with one of the pastors. This alone should render these allegations unreliable and inadmissible.”

Allegations of this magnitude are seldom made by ordinary citizens. A CSW source suggested that the Hassanpour family was coerced into accusing the pastors under the threat of having their children taken away. Thomas called for due process to be followed and for the pastors’ charges to be dropped, stating, “These men are clearly being subjected to officially engineered harassment due to their church leadership roles.”

Pastor Nadarkhani was previously arrested in May 2016 during a raid on Christian homes by the Ministry of Intelligence. Despite the pastors’ previous sentences being reduced, the new charge underscores a concerning trend of suppressing religious freedom.

Christian support organization Open Doors noted in its 2023 World Watch List that despite a crackdown on house churches, there has been significant growth in Iran’s underground church movement.

However, Christians, especially those who convert from Islam, face increasing oppression in Iran.

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