"Reports by Ministry of Intelligence officers on organizing home groups to promote Christianity, membership and participation in home groups, are not considered acts against the security of the country, and the law did not recognize them as criminal activity."
Homayoun Zhaveh, who has Parkinson's disease, and his wife Sara Ahmadi had been sentenced in Iran to a prison term for their membership of a house church in Iran. They were purging a combined sentence of 10 years in prison when their request for a new trial was granted.
Indeed, on Easter Day, the Christian couple had learned that the Supreme Court had finally ordered that their case be heard again by an appeal court.
On Tuesday, the 34th branch of the Tehran Court of Appeals acquitted them. They left Evin prison the same evening.
Item18, organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of religious freedom in Iran which advocates on behalf of persecuted Christians, reports that in his ruling, the appeals court judge said that meeting with people of one's own faith was "natural", and having books related to Christianity was "also an extension of their beliefs". He also added that there was "no evidence" that Sara and Homayoun had acted against the security of the country or had links with opposition groups or organizations.
The judge went so far as to state that "reports by officers of the Ministry of Intelligence on the organization of home groups to promote Christianity, membership and participation in home groups, are not considered acts against the security of the country, and the law has not recognized them as a criminal activity". He concluded there was not "sufficient evidence" that the Christian couple acted against national security.
For Mansour Borji, director of Article18, "this latest verdict once again demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the decision which has sent a considerable number of Christians to prison, many of whom are suffering from the effects of their trauma years later".
If he is delighted with this decision, Mansour Borji is also thinking of "other prisoners of conscience, including Christians, who continue to be detained and imprisoned on similar charges". "Let's hope for a fair trial for them too," he said.