President Obama obtained the release of a few American prisoners from Iran by paying $400 million. But there has been no change to the policy in Iran of persecuting Christians.
Maryam (Nasim) Naghash Zargaran, a Christian convert who has been imprisoned since 2013 while suffering from several ailments, has been home with her family on a five-day furlough (temporary leave) since June 6, 2016 following her life-threatening hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Now her family is repeating their demand for her permanent release.“We are happy they gave her furlough, but that’s not why my daughter went on a hunger strike. We want her to be free,” Zargaran’s mother, Zahra Pour-Nouhi Langroudi, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “Maryam has served a third of her sentence and by law she qualifies for conditional release. We don’t know why she was sentenced to four years in prison in the first place.”
Langroudi added that Zargaran began her most recent hunger strike on May 29, 2016 after an Intelligence Ministry representative falsely led her to believe that one of her convictions could be overturned.
Zargaran has said she will resume her hunger strike if she is not formally released by July 7, 2016, according to her mother.
“Maryam was sentenced to four years in prison on two charges, but they had no evidence to support either one,” said Langroudi. “They accused her of preaching Christianity in Babolsar (145 miles north of Tehran) with 20 other women, but no one [was presented in court] to prove that he or she had been converted to Christianity by Maryam.”
“During the trial Judge Moghisseh joked with his staff and said: ‘What should I do, Haji? How many years do you think I should give her? Is five years good?’ And then his colleague said: ‘No! She’s too young—poor thing.’ Judge Moghisseh then said he would sentence her to four years,” said Langroudi.
“Can a judge joke like this about sentencing someone? Shouldn’t he stick to the law and base his decision on evidence?” added Langroudi.
Langroudi also informed the Campaign that her daughter would be going to the hospital during her five-day furlough to receive treatment for health problems that have been exacerbated by her hunger strike.
“Maryam is suffering from heart, ear, and spinal disc ailments, and neck and hand arthritis. She had heart disease before she was sent to prison and underwent an operation for it last year,” said Langroudi. “The doctors had told her that she must absolutely avoid stressful situations, but the other problems with her ear, back and arthritis are the result of her imprisonment.”
Since March 2011, Zargaran, a children’s music teacher, was regularly summoned and interrogated by security police about her alleged Christian missionary activities. She was eventually arrested on November 5, 2012 and accused of seeking property in northern Iran for an orphanage along with converted Christian pastor Saeed Abedini before he was also imprisoned for his religious beliefs in 2013. Abedini, an Iranian-American dual national, spent eight years in prison on proselytization charges until he was released in January 2016 along with two other Iranian-Americans following a prisoner swap deal between Iran and the United Sates.
In 2013, despite having no access to legal counsel, Zargaran was sentenced to four years in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court, presided by Judge Mohammad Moghisseh, for “assembly and collusion against national security.” The Appeals Court later upheld the sentence.
Zargaran began serving her sentence on July 15, 2013 in Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward. She has been granted furlough twice to receive specialized medical treatment.
Iran’s Protestant Christian and Christian convert community are subjected to severe persecution and discrimination, and are prosecuted vigorously for what authorities view are their proselytizing activities.