Iranian woman released from prison says regime is detaining 15 other Christians

Opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hold a protest outside the Iranian embassy in west London, December 31, 2017. | Reuters/Eddie Keogh

Iranian Christian convert and human rights activist Mary Mohammadi, who spent 46 days in a detention center and a prison for protesting against the government, says the Islamic country has detained 15 other Christians in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons.

In her first interview since being granted a temporary release from prison on Feb. 26, Mohammadi spoke to VOA Persian recently, saying her domestic contacts had informed her that at least 15 Christians were in detention in Iran’s prisons as of June 11.

She said at least 20 other Iranian Christians had been released on bail while awaiting trial.

Mohammadi was arrested on Jan. 12 and later sentenced to three months in prison and torture for protesting the government’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane earlier that month.

At the National Prayer Breakfast gathering in February in Washington, President Donald Trump had expressed concern about her detention. “Mary was seized and imprisoned in Iran because she converted to Christianity and shared the Gospel with others,” Trump said.

In April, the 21-year-old took to social media to provide a case update for her followers. “After suffering many types of torture and 46 days in jail in the terrible conditions of Vozara detention and Qarchak [women’s] Prison, I have been sentenced to 3 months and 1 day in prison and 10 lashes,” Mohammadi wrote on Instagram.

Mohammadi also wrote that she had been sentenced because she had protested “against the slaughter of human beings” and because she had shown “sympathy for the families of those who perished on the Ukraine airline crash.”

She added that her sentence had been suspended for one year depending on her conduct. She also contended that there was never any evidence against her. 

“So I ought to have been acquitted, but instead I was sentenced not only to imprisonment but also flogging,” she wrote. “And of course, even before the verdict was handed down, I was forced to endure all kinds of torture, none of which is sanctioned by law, and which ought to be considered crimes in themselves.”

Mohammadi was arrested also in 2017 during a raid on an underground house church meeting and later sentenced to six months in prison. She served her time in the women’s ward of 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, HRANA reported at the time.

In her letter, Mohammadi 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.

Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List ranks Iran as the ninth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution. Iran has for years also been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in egregious religious freedom abuses. 

Under Iran’s Islamic law, Christian converts face severe persecution from the government. It’s illegal for Christians to share their faith with non-Christians. And Christian converts who attend underground house churches risk arrest and torture and many converts are forced to keep their faith a secret.

However, the underground church in Iran has continued to grow. Open Doors estimates that there are more than 800,000 Christians in the Shia-dominated country.

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