Mehdi Khatibi | Iran
Mehdi Khatibi and Babak Hosseinzadeh, both converts to Christianity, were arrested at two separate house churches on Feb. 23, 2019. Kamal Naamanian, Mohammed Vafadar, Behnam Akhlaghi, Khalil Dehkanpour, Hossein (Elisha) Kadivar, Abdolreza (Matthias) Haghnejad and Shahrooz Eslamdous, who are all members of the same church, were also arrested between Jan. 29 and Feb. 23, 2019. In March, seven of the nine men were released on bail at that time to await sentencing, while Pastor Matthias and Shahrooz Eslamdous remained in custody.
On July 24, at a preliminary hearing, the nine men were accused of “acting against national security” and “promoting Zionism.” Judge Mohammed Moghiseh, who earned the nickname the “judge of death”, rejected the lawyer representing five of the defendants, and they, in turn, rejected an alternate appointed by the court. Angered, the judge transferred the pastor, Shahrooz Eslamdous, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi and Behnam Akhlaghi straight to Evin Prison, where they remain in Ward 4.
The converts lost their appeal against the five-year prison sentences, though neither they nor their lawyers were allowed to attend the Feb. 25 hearing.
All nine men are from the northern city of Rasht and are members of the Church of Iran. The church’s pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence, and the men were helping lead the church in his absence.
Islamic Republic of Iran