After four years’ imprisonment for “violating national security”, Iranian Christian Maryam Naghash Zargaran was released from Tehran’s Evin prison last night (1 August).
She was due to be released four days earlier, on 28 July, but, as Mohabat News reported, this was delayed without explanation.
Naghash Zargaran, 39, a convert from Islam, was first questioned by intelligence officers in January 2010 because of her work with underground churches, or “house churches”.
In January 2013, she was arrested alongside Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini in connection with their work at an orphanage and both were sentenced a few months later. (Abedini was released in January 2016, following pressure from the US government.)
According to Mohabat News, quoting part of Naghash Zargaran’s conviction letter, the court sentenced her to four years’ imprisonment for acts that were “in line with England and Occupied Palestine’s [Israel’s] anti-security agenda to spread Christianity in Iran in order to pervert Iranian society from Islam”.
While in prison she was harassed and repeatedly denied medical treatment for longstanding medical issues. To protest against this, she undertook a number of hunger strikes. On a handful of occasions she was allowed to leave prison temporarily to receive treatment, but each time forced to return before it could be completed. She then had her sentence extended by six weeks to make up for the time she had spent outside prison.
Last year her family said that prison conditions had traumatised her and left her suffering with depression. Amnesty International referenced her case when it accused Iran of “cruel” denial of medical care in its prisons.
Naghash Zargaran underwent heart surgery ten years ago and needs regular medical check-ups. She has also been diagnosed with lumbar disc disease, arthritis and osteoporosis. The stressful conditions in prison exacerbated her congenital heart condition, reported to be Atrial Septal Defect (also known as a “hole in the heart”), which can reduce the blood’s oxygen levels.
Mansour Borji, from advocacy group Article 18, told World Watch Monitor her “unjust detention despite severe health issues is clear evidence of Iran’s lack of respect for religious freedom”.
“Part of this suppression is reflected in the increased number of arrests, but also smear campaigns against religious minorities, especially Christians,” he added.
In the past few months, a dozen Christians – mainly converts from a Muslim background – have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms of ten years or more, leading two imprisoned Christians to undertake hunger strikes of their own. Most recently, Amin Afshar Naderi, sentenced to 15 years in jail, was let out on bail after going three weeks without food.