An Iranian pastor who has spent most of the past four years behind bars has now been transferred to another prison on the
other side of the country, 1,000 miles from his home and family.
Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad, who is known as Matthias, was flown yesterday morning from Rasht, northern Iran, to the remote southern city of Minab, where he has been told he must serve the remainder of his six-year prison sentence for “propagating Christianity”.
Matthias had been serving this particular sentence in his home city of Anzali, near Rasht, since January 2022, when he was detained just two weeks after being released following his acquittal from a separate five-year sentence for “promoting Zionist Christianity”.
The sentence Matthias is now serving – of which he was also once acquitted, before this was later overturned – dates back to 2012, and stipulated that he was to be imprisoned in Minab. However, until now, this aspect of the sentence had not been enforced.
But yesterday morning, Matthias was suddenly taken to the airport in Rasht and flown to the other side of the country, without a chance to say goodbye to his wife, Anahita, or their daughter, Hannah.
It is not uncommon for the Iranian authorities to order that detainees are imprisoned or exiled in remote places, as an additional means of punishment, and especially in cases involving prisoners of conscience.
Matthias, who is part of the “Church of Iran” denomination, has a long history of arrest dating back to 2006.
He was arrested most recently, alongside Anahita, at Christmas, when Matthias was on leave from prison.
In a separate development, Article18’s partner organisation CSW reported on Friday that Matthias and another “Church of Iran” leader who has spent years in prison, Yousef Nadarkhani, had been summoned to face new charges.
Article18 understands that Yousef, who was released from prison in March, went to the prosecutor’s office in Rasht the following day, as directed, but was then told to go home again as the judge had not turned up.
CSW reported that the new charges were a result of accusations brought against the two pastors by two church members who were “pressurised into incriminating them”.
The church members, Ramin Hassanpour and wife Saeede (Kathrin) Sajadpour, were themselves sentenced to a combined seven years in prison in 2020 for “acting against national security” by belonging to a house-church and “spreading Zionist Christianity”.
CSW said the couple, who have two children, had faced “significant pressure from the political police prior to implicating the pastors”.
“The idea is to threaten to take the children away,” CSW’s source said. “This development highlights the determination of certain members within the political police to employ despicable methods in suppressing minority groups.”
CSW’s Mervyn Thomas added: “The charge faced by Pastors Nadarkhani and Haghnejad is the latest in a long litany of injustices experienced by both men. Moreover, they 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.
“These men are clearly being subjected to officially engineered harassment due to their church leadership roles, in contravention of a November 2021 Supreme Court ruling that ‘merely preaching Christianity’ should not be deemed a threat to national security.” Article 18