Speaking about his time in prison, Mr Alijani said: “The mental anguish affects you physically, even if you are not mistreated physically. When my family came to visit me they said they could see the anguish written on my face.... Each time I was sick, I would go to the prison pharmacy which was run by inmates and only really provided painkillers.... The guards regularly tried to get me to reconvert.”
Mr Alijani, Pastor Sabokrouh and Naser Zamen-Dezfuli were held until February 2012, when they were released on temporary bail. Following his release, Pastor Sabokrouh was told not to hold any church services and was forbidden from visiting other Christians in Ahwaz. In addition, he was banned from living in Ahwaz, his home town, and was forced to move to Tehran.
In October 2012, the four Christians were each sentenced to a year in prison on charges of converting to Christianity and propagating against the Islamic Republic through evangelism. They were summoned to court in May 2013, where they were arrested and sent to prison to serve their sentences.
On 4 December 2013, Pastor Sabokrouh and Naser Zamen-Dezfuli were released from Sepidar Prison when they had almost completed their sentences, and Shahnaz Jayzan was reportedly released on 28 January. However, the church no longer holds services, despite being legally registered.
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, “While we welcome these releases, we remind the Iranian authorities that these people were arrested and convicted for nothing other than celebrating Christmas in their legally registered church. Such activity does not merit the political charges on which they were convicted. Denying religious minorities the freedom to manifest their faith in worship and in communion with others contravenes article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is party. Moreover, the effective criminalisation of conversion infringes on the right to adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice. We urge the Iranian regime end this practice, and to release all prisoners of conscience imprisoned under false political charges.”