Leave used as leverage against Christian prisoners

Leave used as leverage against Christian prisoners

By Mansour Borji

Saheb Fadaie with his wife, Marjan, and their 15-year-old daughter, Martha.

17 June marked the 41st birthday of Saheb Fadaie, currently serving a 10-year prison sentence – reduced to six years – for “acting against national security by forming a house-church and promoting Christianity”. Saheb has been in Tehran’s Evin Prison since July 2018 and it has been nine months since his last leave of absence, while his latest request for leave remains unanswered.

His daughter, Martha, who is now 15 years old, has been deprived of her father’s presence for the past four years. “Every time I do a thorough house-clean, Martha asks excitedly if her father is about to be released on leave,” says her mother, Marjan. “It is useless to deny it, because even if I do she convinces herself that our intention is to surprise her. But when she eventually finds out that it isn’t the case, at this moment she is confronted with despair and unanswered questions in the face of all this injustice.”

Two days before Saheb’s birthday, Marjan went to the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office to follow up on her husband’s latest request for leave. Despite having booked an appointment, it took four hours before Marjan was admitted to see the prosecutor, Ali Salehi, and still the meeting proved utterly fruitless. His formal response – “We will have to make enquiries” – is a well-known method of the prosecutor’s office and prison officials to shirk responsibilities and palm off work to other offices.

But the main hindrance to approvals of requests for furlough – or any other benefits that prisoners are legally entitled to – is that it is the representatives of the Ministry of Intelligence or Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who have the final say.

In recent years, these security forces have abused their judicial immunity and lack of public accountability by openly imposing their arbitrary decisions on even the highest judicial authorities.

Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, 60, has not been permitted even one day of leave during his four and a half years in prison.

According to the testimonies of current and former prisoners of conscience, these security agencies use medical care, leave and other legally guaranteed benefits as leverage to force them to comply with their illegal demands.

On several occasions the families of Christian prisoners who have sought medical care, release, leave or other rights for their imprisoned relative have been told in no uncertain terms: “If you want your request to be granted, tell your loved one to cooperate!” But what does this “cooperation” entail?

In most cases, the prisoner is told they must either deny their faith or at the very least refrain after their release from meeting and worshipping with other Christians – innocent actions interpreted in recent years as a “serious threat” to the Islamic Republic.

Leave from prison is not always contingent on such demands, but the abuse of these rights by the government, security and judicial officials as a lever of pressure against prisoners of conscience is undeniable.

Failure to grant leave a type of torture

According to lawyer Mohammad Oliaei-Fard, not granting leave or conditional release is tantamount to torture.

Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was recently given his first leave from prison in four years.

“The purpose of imprisonment is to ‘correct’ the offender, and one of the methods of ‘correction’ is that the prisoner must be in contact with the outside world,” he told IranWire. “Because if a prisoner is not in contact with the outside world, it is considered a double punishment and a kind of torture. A prisoner will not be reformed without contact with the outside world, but instead will become depressed and ill.”

Mr Oliaei-Fard argues that failure to grant leave to a prisoner is therefore a clear example of torture.

And at the same time, according to prison regulations, the authorities are obliged to grant leave to even political or so-called “security” prisoners, while such prisoners who have served even one-third of their sentence are eligible for release on bail.

‘Go thank God we didn’t execute you!’

In international law, and the domestic law of most countries, the rights of prisoners are “guaranteed”.

These rights include telephone contact with one’s family, face-to-face visits, medical care, leave, and other things that today some of the leaders of the Islamic Republic attempt to label as “privileges” and therefore levers of pressure.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, was himself detained during the Shah’s reign, and at that time wrote a letter asking why he had been deprived of his “right prescribed by law” to use the telephone, describing the deprivation as “medieval”.

Khamenei’s letter from prison.

This same man is now ultimately responsible for ensuring others endure the same kinds of deprivation, and much worse.

Farshid Fathi, a Christian leader who spent five years in prison without a single day off, told Article18: “Having served one third of my sentence, I, along with several other prisoners, took a letter requesting leave, and handed it to official responsible. This man looked at the letter, placed it on the desk in front of him, and then said to me: ‘Go away, and be thankful to God that we didn’t execute you! Don’t apply for leave again!’”

Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, 60, is another Christian convert serving a 10-year sentence in Evin Prison since January 2018 for his peaceful ideological activities. He has so far been deprived of even one day of leave. After four and a half years in prison, Nasser’s repeated requests for leave, parole or a retrial have been denied, without explanation.

Meanwhile, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who was detained for nearly four years without leave, was finally permitted his first visit home in April having previously being denied leave without explanation. The UN’s Working Group of Arbitrary Detention ruled in 2020 that Yousef’s detention is illegal, but he remains in prison.

As does Mehdi Akbari, a Christian convert who was informed three days after Christmas that his 18-year-old son, Amir Ali, who had underlying health issues, had died due to complications after surgery. Even then, due to the bureaucracy involved in securing his release, including a heavy bail demand, it took four days before Mehdi was able to secure a five-day leave from prison.

By that time the funeral of his only child had already taken place.

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