Christian convert Behnam Akhlaghi was summoned to the offices of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Feb. 23, 2019, as his colleagues Mehdi Khatibi and Babak Hosseinzadeh were being arrested at two different house churches. Colleagues Kamal Naamanian, Mohammed Vafadar, Khalil Dehkanpour, Hossein (Elisha) Kadivar, Abdolreza (Matthias) Haghnejad and Shahrooz Eslamdous had been arrested in the preceding four weeks. In March, seven of the nine men were released on bail to await sentencing, while Pastor Matthias and Shahrooz Eslamdous remained in custody.
At a preliminary hearing on July 24, the nine men were accused of “acting against national security” and “promoting Zionism.” Judge Mohammed Moghiseh, who has earned the nickname the “judge of death,” rejected the lawyer representing five of the defendants, and they, in turn, rejected an alternate appointed by the court. Angered, the judge transferred the pastor, Shahrooz Eslamdous, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi and Behnam Akhlaghi straight to Evin Prison, where they remain in Ward 4.
The converts lost their appeal against the five-year prison sentences, though neither they nor their lawyers were allowed to attend the Feb. 25, 2020 hearing.
All nine men are from the northern city of Rasht and are members of the Church of Iran. The church’s pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence, and the men were helping lead the church in his absence.
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