A 21-year-old Christian convert in Iran known for highlighting the plight of persecuted believers and criticizing the country’s repressive government remains missing nearly three weeks after her arrest.
The website Article 18 reports that Fatemeh Mohammadi, also known as Mary, was among those arrested on Jan. 12 near Azadi Square. At the time of her arrest, protests were taking place in response to the Iranian government’s admission of guilt in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane hit by two missiles.
Mohammadi was apprehended by police and transported to an unknown location. Nearly three weeks after her arrest no one has heard from the young woman.
On the day of her arrest, she published a series of tweets in which she said the Iranian people were facing “soft repression,” exposed only to news that the regime wanted them to read.
In her tweets, she used hashtags that, when translated, mean “hard-pressed” and “suppression is the norm."
She added that tackling soft repression is even harder than tackling the “hard repression," accusing the government of “institutionalizing false beliefs through selective coverage of the news," and “lies that are bigger and more repetitive make them more believable.”
The Christian activist was previously arrested three other times and spent six months in prison on charges of "membership in proselytizing groups," "Christian activity," and "acting against national security through propaganda against the regime."
Just before her arrest, she was kicked out of the university she was attending for no given reason. A week later, she was arrested again.
“It appears that my religious beliefs and having a prior conviction [because of Christian activities] on security-related charges, as well as my human rights activism, are the reasons for banning me from further education,” she told Article 18 at the time.
“The denial of basic and fundamental rights, such as the right to education, certainly can act as a pressure mechanism and is used as a lever to apply pressure on religious minorities and human rights activists in the hope that individuals will halt their activities and abandon their beliefs. Depriving me of my education is certainly intended to exert pressure upon me, and silence me.”
Persecution watchdog group Open Doors notes that Mohammadi also boldly spoke about believers’ rights, including the cruel treatment she received in prison, and ran a campaign petitioning for all Christians, including converts, to be given the right to worship in a church.
When asked whether she feared for her safety, she responded that she was ready to return to prison to fight for the rights of Christians in Iran.
Earlier this year, she wrote an open letter to Iran’s Minister of Intelligence, accusing him of violating the Iranian Constitution by targeting Christians. In it, she questioned why Christians are prevented from “talking about their beliefs with their peers,” while Muslims can freely engage in “propaganda” at schools, universities, mosques and shrines.”
Iran is ranked No. 9 on Open Doors' 2020 World Watch List of worst countries to live as a Christian.
“Iranian society is governed by Islamic law, which means the rights of and professional possibilities for Christians are heavily restricted,” Open Doors notes. “Christians are forbidden from sharing their faith with non-Christians in Iran, and it is illegal to produce Christian literature.”
According to the charity, over the 2020 World Watch List reporting period, there were at least 169 arrests of Christians, 114 of them made in one single week at the end of 2018.
“Many Iranian believers (especially converts) have been prosecuted and sentenced to long terms in jail. Others are still awaiting trial. Their families face public humiliation during this time,” Open Doors reports.
Last week, a court in Iran sentenced a 65-year-old convert to Christianity to three years in prison for “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs” even as he is yet to be tried in the court for two other charges.
In December, Iran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced nine Christians to a combined total of 45 years in prison for converting to Christianity. The converts were arrested in January and February 2019.