An Iranian convert to Christianity arrested more than two months ago remains in prison in the conservative north-western city of Tabriz, according to rights group Article 18.

Ali Amini (Article 18)
Ali Amini, also known as Philip (Article 18)

Ali Amini, known by his friends as Philip, was arrested by revolutionary guards at his workshop in the city on 10 December. His mobile phone and laptop were also confiscated.

His elderly father was present during the raid, and watched as his son was taken away. Amini is married and has two young children, aged one and three.

“Every year, pressure on Christians increases ahead of Christmas,” Article 18 reported, adding that four other Christians were arrested over the Christmas period in 2017 – in Karaj , a city just to the west of the capital Tehran.

Four UN officials recently expressed concern over three other Christians sentenced to between 10 and 15 years in prison last year. Their appeals were due to take place on 4 February, but were postponed. A fourth Christian, Kaviyan Fallah-Mohammadi, was also sentenced alongside them.

“We are deeply concerned by the long jail sentences imposed at a previous hearing on Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, Amin Afshar Naderi and Hadi Asgari for allegedly ‘conducting evangelism’ and ‘illegal house church activities’, and similar charges that, according to the authorities, amount to acting against national security, completely contrary to Iran’s international obligations,” said a statement by the four officials, including Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and Asma Jahangir, who was Special Rapporteur on Iran until her death on Sunday (11 February).

“We are additionally concerned about the lack of healthcare made available to them while in detention and, in particular, about the current health condition of Mr. Asgari, who remains in prison,” they added.

Asma Jahangir previously expressed her concern about the treatment of Iranian prisoners, referencing a prison in Karaj, where at least one Christian – Ebrahim Firouzi – is currently being held and last year went on hunger strike to protest against Iran’s treatment of Christians.

Amnesty International has also spoken out about the mistreatment of Iranian Christians in prison, referencing the case of Maryam Naghash Zargaran when it accused Iran of “cruel” denial of medical care in its prisons.

In their recent statement, the UN experts added: “We are aware of several other reported cases in which members of the Christian minority have received heavy sentences after being charged with ‘threatening national security’, either for converting people or for attending house churches.

“This shows a disturbing pattern of individuals being targeted because of their religion or beliefs, in this case a religious minority in the country.

“Members of the Christian minority in Iran, particularly those who have converted to the faith, are facing severe discrimination and religious persecution.

“The authorities must ensure fair trials for all, including the religious minorities in the country. We also urge the Government to immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been arrested and detained for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.”