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House church group cleared by Iranian court

Country/Region: Iran, Middle East and North Africa

Eleven Iranian Christians who were taken to court because of their involvement in a house church meeting and for taking communion wine have been cleared.

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They were charged with "action against the [Islamic] order of the country" and drinking alcohol following their arrests in April. The group was brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal in Bandar-Anzali on 1 May, where their lawyer made a statement in their defence.

The court's written verdict, issued in mid-May, ruled that since the eleven accused claimed to be conducting a Christian ceremony, their activities were covered by Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution, which allows Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians to "perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education".

The judge upheld their defence that they were involved a religious ceremony, and so found no evidence to support the charge that they had been acting against national security or the order of the country.

The constitutional rights of Iran's harassed and persecuted Christian community are often not upheld.

The acquittals follow the release on 30 April of three Christians, Sonia Keshish-Avanesian, Arash Kermanjani and his wife Arezo Teymouri, after 239 days behind bars. Sonia's husband, Pastor Vahik Abrahamian, remains in custody.

Six Christians whose blasphemy trial has twice been adjourned are still awaiting the outcome of a consultation on their case. Prosecutors have been given more time to seek the opinion of Iran's traditional churches concerning the validity of the charge.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is also still awaiting a date for his appeal against a death sentence, issued formally last November, for apostasy.

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