Reports have emerged of the arrest of the wife of a leader from the Church of Iran denomination on 3 January in Rasht, the provincial capital of Gilan Province.
According to CSW’s sources, Anahita Khademi is being held in Lakan prison in Rasht. Her arrest follows that of her husband, Pastor Matthias (Abdulreza Ali) Haghnejad, in Anzali city in Gilan Province. The pastor was on prison furlough when he was arrested on the evening of 26 December while visiting the home of Amir Roshandal, who was also detained along with another Christian named Massoud Veis-Khani. All three were subsequently transferred to a prison in Rasht.
Pastor Haghnejad was initially sentenced along with eight other Church of Iran members to five years in prison for “endangering state security” and “promoting Zionist Christianity” following a brief trial on 23 September 2019. The sentence was upheld without a hearing on 25 February 2020, after Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei reportedly permitted the judge to bypass court procedures.
The pastor and his co-accused were subsequently released on 30 December 2021 pending a review of their sentences, following a November 2021 Supreme Court ruling that “merely preaching Christianity” should not be deemed a threat to national security, and were eventually acquitted by the 34th Court of Appeal of the Revolutionary Court on 28 February 2022.
However, while the others were released, Pastor Haghnejad was re-arrested on 15 January 2022 on charges of “acting against the security of the country by forming a group and propagating Christianity outside the church and in the house church, and giving information to the enemies of Islam”. These charges were initially levelled against him in 2014, and carry a six-year sentence. Behnam Akhlaghi and Babak Hosseinzadeh, who were acquitted alongside the pastor in February 2022, were charged weeks later with “propaganda against the state”. They are currently on bail.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘Pastor Matthias Haghnejad’s re-arrest on 26 December is the latest in a litany of injustices he has experienced, of which the renewal of spurious charges on which he was acquitted in 2014 is a particularly egregious example. This harassment is clearly due to his leadership role in a house church, and therefore contravenes the November 2021 Supreme Court ruling. We are particularly alarmed by recent reports of the arrest of the pastor’s wife, and call for the couple’s immediate and unconditional release, as well as that of the men detained alongside Pastor Haghnejad and all others currently imprisoned in relation to their religion or belief. We also call on Iran to ensure that all citizens are able to fully enjoy the right to freedom of religion or belief as articulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a signatory, and urge the international community to follow these cases closely as the country remains high on its agenda due to the appalling violations committed against peaceful protesters.’