As Iranian women demonstrate for their rights since the death of Mahsa Amini, on September 16, after his arrest by the morality police, the authorities released two Christians in two days. They were incarcerated in the notorious Evin prison where many protesters against the headscarf were locked up. Despite these early releases, the situation of Iranian Christians is very difficult in this theocratic country whose real power is in the hands of the Shiite clergy.
The situation of Iranian Christians was especially publicized in 2010 when the justice condemned to death by hanging the pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for evangelization and apostasy. Nadarkhani had renounced Islam, which is punishable by death under the mullahs.
Western chancelleries, including France, had pressured Iran to spare the pastor’s life. Released in September 2012, the pastor was arrested twice, the second time in 2016 with his wife and three other Christians, before being released again at the same time as her.
This highly publicized situation is the one faced by Christians from non-historical communities in Iran, such as the Church of the East or the Orthodox Church. Unlike the faithful of traditional churches, the Christians who frequent recent religious organizations are of Muslim origin and have therefore committed the official crime of apostasy. This is what led to the detention in Evin of the two Christians released in October, Fariba Dalir and Naser Navard-Goltapeh. They were pardoned by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamanei, after respectively 200 days and five years of imprisonment.
It is difficult to know if these are liberations intended for the eyes of the West.
According to’NGOs Article 18there are at least ten other Christians imprisoned in Evin prison and eight in other prisons in Iran or abroad, with the actual numbers probably higher, concedes the association.
Violence by law enforcement and media accusations of espionage or rape
The conditions of arrest and detention are particularly trying for Christians who have to face the violence of their guards and, upstream, the police.
In April 2021, Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi had been sentenced to 30 days in prison and 10 lashes. Converted to Christianity, the 21-year-old was officially sentenced for participating in demonstrations against the government. She claims not to have taken part, but says that she and her family were tortured before her incarceration. “So even if I had been acquitted, it wouldn’t have been a real acquittal!” “, she denounces, while having made the choice not to appeal.
What looks like a travesty of justice is common in the criminal persecution of Christians. Youcef Nadarhani had been charged in the media of extortion, rape and espionage for the benefit of Israel when his court file mentioned only his apostasy and his missionary activities. While Pastor Farshid Fathiwas sentenced in 2012 to six years in prison for actions against national security, intelligence with the enemy and religious propaganda.
Authorities can also arrest Christians on the pretexts of theological dissent in order to divide believers. After Nadarkhani’s release in September 2012, they arrested dozens of Christians in less than two months in the south of the country, in Shiraz and Carvaz and presented their doctrines as heretical. Christians have been described in particular as being Unitarian, that is to say not believing in the Trinity, the power thus hoped that NGOs such as Open Doors would not consider them as persecuted Christians.
Image credit: Shutterstock/ Alexandros Michailidis
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