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Six Christians were among the more than 54,000 prisoners released from custody in Iran over the past week, as part of efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Article18 has already reported on the early release of Assyrian-Iranian Christian Ramiel Bet-Tamraz and the release on bail of Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi on Wednesday last week. Another Christian convert who cannot be named was also released that day.
Then on Monday, 2 March, three more Christian converts were given 36 days’ leave from prison: Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari, who is serving a one-year sentence; Amin Khaki, whose sentence is 14 months; and a third convert who also cannot be identified.
Mahrokh was forced to submit 30 million tomans for bail (around $2,000) – the same as Mary Mohammadi – and Amin 50 million (around ($3,000).
Rights groups have been calling for the release of all political prisoners for weeks, noting that prisons in China, where the virus first emerged, became a hotbed for the disease.
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Iran highlighted in his most recent report that the country’s overcrowded prisons are a “source of infections and ill-health” and the “spread of infectious and communicable diseases”.
Succumbing to the growing pressure, on Monday Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, announced that more than 54,000 prisoners who had tested negative for the coronavirus had been released on bail.
The leave did not apply to security prisoners serving sentences of more than five years, Mr Esmaili said, which could explain why more Christian prisoners of conscience were not freed.
Five Christians are currently serving ten-year sentences on security-related charges – Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Yousef Nadarkhani, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, Mohammad Ali Mossayezbazeh, and Mohammad Reza Omidi.
Another five – Abdolreza (Matthias) Haghnejad, Mohammad (Shahrooz) Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, and Behnam Akhlaghi – have been detained since July last year. They are appealing against five-year sentences.
It is not clear, however, why there has been no furlough for Christian convert Fatemeh (Aylar) Bakhtari, who, like Mahrokh, is serving a one-year sentence.
The families of detainees have called for more prisoners to be released, including those serving longer sentences, with the sister of an imprisoned environmentalist noting that the virus “is unaware of [the length of] sentences when it infects people”.
Counting the cost
Iran has recorded the highest number of deaths (92) from the virus outside of China.
Several senior Iranian figures have been infected, including 23 MPs and the Vice President for women and family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, while a member of the Expediency Council, Mohammad Mirmohammadi – reportedly a close confidant of the Supreme Leader – has died.
Iran rejected an offer of assistance from the United States, but a team of World Health Organization officials have been allowed into the country.
The government has not confirmed any cases of the virus in its prisons, though there have been claims of infections at several prisons.
An open letter by 100 Sunni prisoners in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj claimed the authorities were not doing enough to combat the spread of the virus.
They said they had not been provided with masks, gloves and disinfectant, as requested, and were refused temporary leave.
Annual policy applied on country’s independence, religious festivals sees 9,333 Christian prisoners have their sentences reduced, including former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama . Ahok was sentenced to two years jail in May this year, after being found guilty of blasphemy. read more
(Mohabat News) – The Islamic regime’s Intelligence Service has addressed a secret letter to the Iranian Prisons Organization instructing them to prevent Christian prisoners from celebrating Easter.
Maf News reports that an anonymous source indicated that a letter has been sent out to the Prisons Organization ordering them to “cooperate with intelligence officers in preventing Christian prisoners from celebrating Easter”. The letter mentions Easter as a foreign tradition!
Many Christians are in Iranian prisons for their faith and many have reluctantly left the country due to intense pressure by the Islamic government of Iran.
In a similar story, Mohabat News reported earlier that Rajaei-Shahr prison organized a Christmas/New Year celebration for prisoners on December 30 and banned a number of Christian prisoners serving their sentence there from attending the celebration.
The Islamic regime of Iran claims that it respects the rights of religious minorities as well as their privacy. However, this claim has been proved wrong over and over again as the Islamic regime continues to oppress religious minorities, including Christians.
The prison authorities’ treatment of Christians in preventing them from celebrating the resurrection of their Lord, is an indicator of the Iranian regime’s overall policy toward Christians and other religious minorities.
Prison guards in Evin and Karaj raided cells of Christians being held there, damaging facilities and stealing personal belongings.
According to Mohabat News, early in the morning on July 18, 2013, one hundred and fifty prison guards in Evin prison raided ward 350, pulled prisoners from their cells, physically inspected them and began searching there. During their searching operation, the guards broke and stole prisoners’ belongings. Ward 350 holds mainly political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.
According to a message Mohabat News received from inside the prison, other than political prisoners’ cells, cells of Christian prisoners were raided as well. Christian prisoners held in that ward include Farshid Fathi, Mostafa Bordbar, Alireza Seyyedian and the American-Iranian pastor, Saeed Abedini. In addition to their personal belongings, prison guards damaged facilities in their cells, including cooling systems, electric wires, etc.
To carry out the attack, prison authorities in Evin prison requested support from Ghezel-Hesar prison. The operation was led by Mr. Ghobadi, Chief of Security of Evin prison. The guards used handheld scanners and also physically inspected prisoners’ bodies in a disrespectful fashion.
This sort of humiliating and aggressive attack is unheard of. The guards violated the prisoners’ privacy and searched their personal belongings which resulted in the loss of several items belonging to the prisoners.
It is worth mentioning that Christian prisoners in ward 350 of Evin prison are imprisoned merely for their Christian faith and no other offense. Farshid Fathi and Alireza Seyyedian were sentenced to six years in prison and Pastor Saeed Abedini was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment. All three of these Christian prisoners are serving their sentences. The other Christian prisoner, Mostafa Bordbar, is waiting for a verdict from his trial which was held earlier. He has been held in prison for eight months now.
– Prison Guards Raid Behnam Irani’s Cell in Karaj Prison
In this latest incident, Iranian authorities raided the cell of Behnam Irani, a prisoner of conscience, and his cellmates in Karaj prison, inspecting their cells and damaging their personal belongings.
As authorities raided his cell, Behnam Irani objected to their behavior. As a result, he was threatened to be put into solitary confinement. According to the report, such inhuman and violent attacks are often carried out against Mr. Irani and his cellmates. It is reported that his cell was raided 10 times in the past two months alone.
This is not the first time that prisoners of conscience have been harassed for insisting on their beliefs. The Islamic regime’s inappropriate and violent behavior towards these prisoners has been consistently criticized and condemned by Human Rights activists and the International Community.
It is noteworthy that Mr. Behnam Irani is a member of a non-Trinitarian Christian group who has been sentenced to six years in prison and is currently serving his sentence in ward two, hall seven of Karaj prison. Iranian security authorities had arrested him in his house in March 2010.
Dear Dr Rohani, the elected president of our dear nation,
Greetings, … We, the Christian prisoners, would like to congratulate your success in getting elected as our president and becoming the head of the law enforcement in Iran. We ask God’s wisdom and blessings upon you and your office. May your office, having such a delicate and sensitive role, by God’s help, bring honour and glory to our country Iran.
We pray that you may bring freedom of religion to religious minorities of Iran, especially Christians, freedom which would allow us to worship God, the creator of heaven and earth. We wish that we may not be prisoners during your office term, although being in prison just because of our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is an hour for us.
We pray that God’s fear would be in your heart and his wisdom and grace a light to your feet. May God’s grace help you to go through the challenging years ahead.
Farshid Fathi, Alireza Seyedian, Mostafa Bordbar