An Iranian Christian woman, who was sent to prison in 2018 after being convicted of “spreading propaganda against the regime” for discussing Christian doctrine inside a house church has been released, according to the U.K.-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Fatemeh Bakhteri, who was sentenced to 12 months in prison on Sept. 22, 2018, after being found guilty of her charges, was released earlier this month, CSW said in a statement.
The Iranian Christian convert, from the Church of Iran denomination, was granted temporary release from the infamous Evin prison on March 15 due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the Islamic country’s overcrowded prisons, CSW explained. On April 12, Bakhteri was told by prison authorities that she doesn’t have to return to prison.
Bakhteri was arrested along with another Christian, Saheb Fadaie, on the same charges. Fadaie was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Local sources told CSW that the verdict against them claimed that they discussed Christian doctrine in house churches which was considered an attack on Islam.
“We welcome Fatemeh Bakhteri’s release, but note that the charges against her were unfounded and amount to criminalizing Christian activities,” CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said.
“Ms. Bakhteri has spent a year away from her loved ones for discussing Christian doctrine with fellow Christians, which is not illegal,” Thomas added. “She is amongst many Iranians who are being penalized for adopting a religion of their choice.”
Bakhteri was one of over 85,000 prisoners serving short-term prison sentences who were released around March in an attempt by the Iranian regime to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Around the same time, a 35-year-old Iranian Christian, Ramiel Bet Tamraz, was also released three months early from his four-month prison sentence for participating in house churches.
Tamraz had been in prison since early January and was released in late February. “We are very happy and excited that Ramiel is safe and back home. This was a big surprise and a miracle for our family,” his sister, Assyrian Christian Dabrina Bet-Tamraz, told Al Arabiya English. “We still pray for those who are in prison, for God's protection over their health.”
Dabrina had met with President Trump at the White House last July.
Many who have gained their freedom in the mass release will only be released temporarily and will have to go back to prison at a later date. But Tamraz will not have to serve the remainder of his time.
Iran has for years been designated by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations.
Last December, nine Christians, who were arrested in January and February 2019, were sentenced to a combined total of 45 years in prison by Iran’s Revolutionary Court. In Iran, it is illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity.
Iran ranks as the ninth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. At least 169 Christians were arrested in Iran during the organization’s 2019 reporting period — Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2019.