News Iran | 05 October 2023

Iran: As one pastor leaves Evin Prison, another is summoned


Show: true / Country: Iran / Iran
In Iran, Christians live subject to the country’s arbitrary nature of justice. Recently, we celebrated as a house church pastor serving a 10-year sentence in Evin Prison was pardoned—only to find out that on the same day, another house church pastor was summoned to Evin Prison to serve his decade-long sentence. 

After just over a year in Tehran’s Evin Prison, 59-year-old Iranian-Armenian Pastor Joseph Shahbazian was recently “pardoned” and released. 

Last year, he received a 10-year-sentence for holding church services in his home and in May it was reduced to two years following a retrial in which a court of appeal didn’t find “enough evidence to determine the maximum punishment for the organization of groups that threaten national security.”

Joseph then applied to serve the rest of this sentence at home with an electronic tag. But on September 13, he was informed he had been pardoned and would be able to return to his family, including his first grandchild, a 9-month-old granddaughter born while he was in jail. 

And while Joseph and his family are overjoyed for him to be back home, the financial, emotional and physical cost of his arrest and imprisonment runs high. He has paid $100,000 in bail and is now in physical distress. 

During his 13 months in prison, Joseph was ill, but each time was denied a medical appointment. Article 18 reports that “by chance,” he discovered that prison officials suspected he was suffering from a serious illness (it’s not known if his condition motivated the pardon). 

Reportedly, serving more than one-third of his reduced sentence made him eligible for conditional release. But by applying for it, he would be agreeing not to organize and host house church meetings with Christian converts. So, like many believers who have sacrificed their lives to tell others about Jesus, Joseph refused. He was not expecting to be pardoned, free to walk out of prison, on September 13. 

Similarly, 61-year-old Anooshavan Avedian, another Iranian-Armenian pastor, didn’t expect to go to Evin Prison that day. While Joseph was walking out of his nightmare, Anooshavan was walking into his to serve the 10-year-sentence he received more than a year ago. Like Joseph, Anooshavan was also leading a private gathering at his home in northeastern Tehran when 30 agents raided it.

In Iran, churches offering services in the Persian language have been closed over the past 15 years, and private worship meetings in homes—house churches—are not permitted, outlawed by Iranian authorities.

Since his sentencing, he has spent the last year wondering (and worrying) when the authorities would knock, summoning him to prison. That knock finally came—agents threatened to forcibly handcuff and transport Anooshavan to prison if he refused to report on his own. 

Anooshavan enters Evin Prison for the same charges that Joseph Shahbazian was pardoned for on the same day, illustrating the uncertainty that Christians in Iran must live with every day. As they follow Jesus in a country where Islam dominates every sphere of life and members of any other faith are immediately seen and treated as “enemy groups,” our Iranian family needs our frequent prayers and support. 

Top image: Article 18

please pray

Pray with us for Pastor Joseph and Pastor Anooshavan:

  • As Anooshavan begins this tough journey, ask God to strengthen him and fill his heart with His peace that surpasses understanding.
  • Pray he will feel God’s presence with him, open to letting God use him as a source of light in the darkness of prison cells.
  • Pray for his family as they grieve his absence. Pray they will remain strong in their faith as they walk this difficult road.
  • Pray for healing for Pastor Joseph as he undergoes tests and treatment for what could be a serious condition. 
  • Pray for continued protection. Although he is “pardoned,” former political prisoners in Iran are never free. His actions will be monitored by police. 
  • Pray for all Christians in Iran as they follow Jesus in a culture hostile to their faith and live with the uncertainty of knowing that on any given day their lives could change with a knock on the door. 
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