Maryam Naghash Zargaran

An Iranian Christian woman, who recently completed a four-year jail sentence for “violating national security” through her work with “house churches”, says she has been banned from leaving the country for six months.

Maryam Naghash Zargaran, 39, who undertook several hunger strikes in prison to protest against being denied medical treatment for long-standing health issues, also says she was prescribed unnecessary anti-psychotic medication.

“The clinic staff lack experience and empathy. When I went there for depression, they gave me a medication that I think was called Haloperidol,” the children’s music teacher told the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “When I got out of prison, I did some research and found out that it was prescribed for seriously insane patients. These pills paralysed me. I couldn’t even think. I could hardly stand up and I fell from the stairs several times…

“When I was on hunger strike, the attending doctor refused to see me and made snide remarks that I wasn’t really on hunger strike because if I was, I would be dead. He said he was sick of prisoners because they were all liars.”

Amnesty International referenced her case last year, when it accused Iran of “cruel” denial of medical care in its prisons. On a handful of occasions, Naghash Zargaran 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.

“No one can imagine how much I suffered during the moments before I was freed,” she told CHRI. “I was scheduled to be released at 3pm. I was happy until five minutes to three, when the authorities told me I had to go to court. They took me to court just minutes before I was supposed to see my family, who were outside the prison gate waiting for me.

“I was taken to the Evin [Prison] Court to hear testimony by prison medical staff, who accused me of insulting them during one of my visits to the clinic. They said I was screaming mad.

“What happened was that I had gone to the prison clinic to get treatment for a meniscus tear in my knee, but the doctor rudely refused to see me. I told the doctor, who used to be a wrestler, that the clinic was not a wrestling ring. That’s why I was sued for supposedly insulting the prison clinic staff.

“They just wanted to raise trouble and scare me. With the completion of my sentence, there’s no reason for me to be banned from travelling abroad. It’s against the law. I wanted to go in front of the prison and sit there in protest until the ban was removed, but I was worried about what would happen to my family.”