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A chiobu christian convert baptised in Malaysia given prison sentence on return to Iran




A Christian convert who was baptised in a church in Malaysia has been sentenced to two years in prison in Iran for “acting against national security by connecting with ‘Zionist’ Christian organisations”.

Laleh Saati, who is 45 years old, returned to Iran in 2017, having grown frustrated at the time it was taking to process her asylum claim in Malaysia, and also to be reunited with her elderly parents.

According to Persian-language news site Human Rights in Iran, she was summoned and interrogated by intelligence agents on numerous occasions after returning.

Then, on 13 February 2024, she was arrested at her father’s home in Ekbatan Town, a suburb of Tehran, and taken to Ward 209 of Evin Prison, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Intelligence.

Laleh was reportedly interrogated for around three weeks in Ward 209 – during which time photographs and videos of her Christian activities and baptism in Malaysia were brought before her as evidence of her “crime” – before being transferred to the women’s ward of the prison.

On 16 March, she was brought before an increasingly notorious judge, Iman Afshari, at Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, who reportedly asked her why she had risked returning to Iran and a court case being opened against her, “given that you have done such things [Christian activities] outside of Iran”.

Laleh’s two-year sentence, which also includes a two-year travel ban following release, was communicated to her lawyer yesterday. Her family were then informed and able to pass on the information to Laleh in prison.

It is not yet known whether any bail amount has been set for Laleh, nor whether she intends to appeal against the sentence.

Article18’s Mansour Borji said “immigration authorities around the world should take note” of the ruling and added that he was “surprised” at the speed with which her case had progressed through the courts.

“Laleh’s case clearly shows that the Christian activities of asylum-seekers in foreign countries can be used against them in court proceedings back in Iran,” he said. “I hope immigration authorities around the world will take note of this, and think twice before rejecting out of hand the asylum claims of genuine Christians who may face persecution upon return to their country of origin.”

Most Western countries accept that Christians are persecuted in Iran, with the UK for example acknowledging in its country guidance that even ordinary Christians are at risk of persecution, and not just leaders.

The European Court of Justice, meanwhile, recently ruled that even asylum-seekers who converted to Christianity outside their country of origin may meet the requirements for refugee protection if they hail from countries where Christians are persecuted.

However, many asylum claims centring on a professed religious conversion have been rejected – in most cases because the judge did not believe the conversion to have been genuine.