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Iran releases Christian convert from prison, persecution watchdog reports

Iran releases Christian convert from prison, persecution watchdog reports

Iranian flag waving with cityscape on background in Tehran, Iran | Getty images/stock photo

An Iranian Christian convert who was arrested during an anti-government protest in Tehran last month has been released on bail from the Qarchak women's prison, which is located in a barren desert east of Tehran and seen as the most dangerous prison in Iran.

The 21-year-old Christian convert, Fatemeh Mohammadi, who prefers to go by the name “Mary” since her spiritual conversion, was released on a $2,250 bail days before her court hearing Monday, the U.S.-based Christian persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported.

For nearly a month after her arrest on Jan. 12, little to nothing was known about her whereabouts. There were reports about her being tortured and beaten during her time in Qarchak Prison.

“The news of her release on bail is a welcomed break from the uncertainty in her case to date,” the group said.

Mohammadi was detained near Azadi Square in Tehran, where protests occurred after the Iranian military shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing 176 people. Although several people were arrested in connection with protests that took place in multiple cities, it was not clear whether she was participating in any of the protests.

She was charged with “disturbing the public order and for participating in an illegal rally.”

Mohammadi published a series of tweets on the day she was arrested, saying that the Iranian people faced “soft repression” in Iran as the regime creates “false beliefs through selective coverage of the news,” according to Article 18, a U.K.-based watchdog group that promotes religious freedom and tolerance for Christians in Iran.

Mohammadi reportedly used hashtags in her tweets that translate to English as “hard-pressed” and “suppression is the norm.” She reportedly accused the regime of spreading ”lies that are bigger and more repetitive make them more believable.”

Mohammadi was previously detained by authorities in the Islamic Republic under different pretexts.

In 2017, she was arrested during a raid on an underground house church meeting and later sentenced to six months in prison. Mohammadi served her time in the women’s ward of Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

She wrote an open letter to Iran’s Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi last May accusing him of targeting Christians and violating the constitution. In her letter, she also questioned why Christian converts in Iran must refrain from talking about their faith while Muslims are free to discuss their faith in public settings.

In June 2018, Mohammadi wrote another open letter detailing the mistreatment she suffered while in prison, accusing interrogators of pressuring her to admit to having illicit sexual relations even though she hadn’t. She even said interrogators even asked her to make up a story about sexual relations that they could enjoy.

Last December, Mohammadi took to social media to complain after she was deemed ineligible to take classes at Azad University and not given a reason why. Her rejection came as other religious minorities had also been denied equal access to education in Iran.

Last July, Mohammadi was arrested again for improperly wearing her hijab. She was arrested while trying to report that she had been assaulted. She was detained for hours and released with a warning. 

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.

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