Iranian-Armenian pastor Joseph Shahbazian was pardoned and released Sept. 13 after spending 13 months in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, according to Article18, which monitors religious freedom in Iran.
The 59-year-old was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison for holding house-church services. His sentence was reduced to two years in May, after a retrial found insufficient evidence for the 10-year sentence.
But on Sept. 13, Shahbazian was summoned to the prison office, told that he had been pardoned and was given an hour to collect his things. The report said that he returned home to his family, including a 9-month-old granddaughter who had been born while he was imprisoned.
Shahbazian’s health suffered in prison, but Article18 reported that he was denied a medical appointment for several months, and even after his appointment, he was not told of his diagnosis.
Many house churches have arisen in Iran in recent years, but these have been outlawed and called “enemy groups.” Members have been arrested and imprisoned on charges of “acting against national security.”
Shahbazian was arrested June 30, 2020, when 10 intelligence agents raided a house-church gathering in the home of a recent convert. Shahbazian and five others were driven to their homes, which were searched for Bibles, other Christian literature and communications devices. Shahbazian was convicted in June 2022 of “founding or leading an organization that aims to disrupt national security,” and that August, he was sent to Evin Prison, which is infamous for its grim conditions, torture of prisoners and thousands of executions.
“We thank God for Joseph’s release, but he should never have been imprisoned in the first place only for exercising his constitutional right to a place to worship,” said Mansour Borji, director of Article18. “But despite the continued mistreatment of Christians like Joseph, we celebrate this rare piece of good news after a constant barrage of sad reports recently of an upsurge of arrests involving more than 100 Christians in the past three months alone.”