Iranian Christian convert, 60, sentenced to 6 years in prison

Woman accused of pushing ‘Zionist’ Christianity for participation in house church

Mina Khajavi
Mina Khajavi | Article 18

Sixty-year-old Christian convert Mina Khajavi has been ordered to commence a six-year prison term in Iran, according to a report that says she was convicted for “acting against national security by promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity” through her involvement in a house church.

Khajavi, arrested in 2020, was sentenced in 2022 alongside two other individuals: fellow Christian convert Malihe Nazari, who also received a six-year sentence, and Iranian-Armenian Pastor Joseph Shahbazian, sentenced to 10 years, according to Article 18, a nonprofit that promotes religious freedom and tolerance for Christians in Iran.

The group explained that while Shahbazian and Nazari began serving their sentences shortly thereafter, Khajavi’s imprisonment was delayed due to a severe car accident that left her with a badly broken ankle, requiring the fitting of metal plates.

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Despite her ongoing physical challenges, including a persistent limp and the development of arthritis, Khajavi was instructed last Wednesday to report to Evin Prison within five days. This directive came despite the early release of both Shahbazian and Nazari, who were convicted on the same charge.

Shahbazian’s sentence was initially reduced to two years after an appeals court judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence under Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code, which pertains to organizing groups that threaten national security. He was fully pardoned and released in September 2023. Nazari was released earlier in 2023, reportedly due to her son’s serious health condition, as he was hospitalized with leukemia.

The case of Mina Khajavi has sparked outrage among human rights activists and organizations.

Mansour Borji, the advocacy director of Article18, expressed shock at the unjust sentence initially handed down to Khajavi for exercising her right to freedom of religion or belief. “We are further appalled by the absurdity of the summons to serve that sentence, despite the serious physical harm that prison conditions can potentially cause her,” Borji said.

Article18 and other groups and activists are calling for the immediate and unconditional acquittal of Khajavi, emphasizing that her sentence is a result of her Christian faith.

The groups are also urging Iran to end the harassment of the Christian community and to respect the November 2021 Supreme Court ruling, which stated that “the promotion of Christianity and formation of a house-church is not criminalized in law” and should not be deemed a threat to national security.

Khajavi’s arrest in June 2020 occurred during raids on several house churches in Tehran, Karaj and Malayer. She was detained for 20 days and released on bail on July 20, 2020. During her detention, Khajavi was blindfolded to prevent her from knowing her location and was eventually dropped off at an unknown location in Tehran, according to Prisoners of Faith.

In October 2021, Khajavi was summoned to give her defense at the Evin prosecutors’ office. On June 7, 2022, she was sentenced to six years in prison. Her appeal was rejected on Aug. 17, 2022. Finally, on Aug. 29, 2022, she was summoned to begin her sentence within 24 hours but was allowed to return home for up to six weeks to recover from a broken leg.

Converts from Islam to Christianity are most at risk of persecution in Iran, especially by the government and to a lesser extent by society and their families, Open Doors USA states in a fact sheet on Iran. 

“The government sees the growth of the church in Iran as an attempt by Western countries to undermine Islam and the Islamic regime of Iran, the fact sheet states. “House groups made up of converts from Muslim backgrounds are often raided, and both their leaders and members have been arrested, prosecuted and given long prison sentences for ‘crimes against national security.’”

Iran is an Islamic republic, and Shia Islam is the official religion of the country. It is illegal for Muslim citizens to convert or renounce their religious beliefs. Conversion from Islam is considered a crime punishable by death. It is also unlawful for Christians to share the Gospel with Muslims. Proselytizing is also a criminal offense.

Those who convert to Christianity usually practice their faith in secret.

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