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Honouring the Iranian Christian women persecuted for their faith

Honouring the Iranian Christian women persecuted for their faith

Clockwise from top-left: Aylar Bakhtari, Maryam Falahi, Mahrokh Ghanbari, Mary Mohammadi, Shamiram Issavi, Marjan Falahi, Malihe Nazari, Sonya Sadegh, Masoumeh Ghasemi, Fatemeh Talebi

On International Women’s Day, we honour the Christian women who have been arrested, charged or imprisoned over the past 12 months in Iran as a result of their faith or religious activities.

This article highlights just 12 such women, but this is by no means an exhaustive list, nor does it include all the women whose husbands are currently serving prison sentences as a result of their faith and are thereby deprived of support in looking after their homes and children.

Mahrokh

Christian convert Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari was released from prison in March 2020 after serving four months of her one-year sentence for “propaganda against the regime”.

Before going to prison, she recorded a short video message in which she said she had been arrested by agents from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence “for the crime of believing in Jesus Christ”.

During her trial, the judge was very rude and tried to humiliate Mahrokh after she disagreed with him. She was also forced to visit an Islamic cleric to receive religious “instruction” and be offered the chance to revert to Islam.

Aylar

Christian convert Fatemeh (Aylar) Bakhtari was also released from prison in March 2020 after serving a little over half of her one-year sentence for “propaganda against the regime” – a charge related to her membership of a house-church.

Before going to prison, Aylar said the prospect of a jail sentence was not as frightening as the two-year ban she was also given from all social activities following her release – meaning she is unable to attend any group meeting of more than two people, effectively cutting her off from gathering with other Christians.

During her trial, the judges pressured Aylar to recant her Christian faith and told her that if she did the charges against her would be dropped. 

Mary

Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi, who has already spent six months in prison because of her membership of a house-church, was given a new suspended sentence of three months in prison and 10 lashes in April 2020 because of her participation in a protest following the downing of Ukrainian passenger plane PS752. 

After her January 2020 arrest Mary was held incommunicado for a month and subjected to shocking abuse, including having to remove her clothes and perform naked sit-ups as prison officers watched.

During the trial the judge questioned her about her religious views, even though the charges – of “disturbing public order by participating in an illegal rally” – were unrelated to her faith.

Sonya & Masoumeh

Somayeh (Sonya) Sadegh was one of five Christian converts arrested in June 2020 during a raid on her house-church in Tehran.

Her mother, Masoumeh Ghasemi, was arrested the following day after going to Evin Prison to enquire about her daughter.

Both women were released on bail a week later after submitting title deeds to cover their combined bail amount of 800 million tomans (around $40,000). 

Malihe

Christian convert Malihe Nazari was detained for over two months following her arrest in June 2020, as part of the coordinated raids on Christian homes and house-churches that also led to Sonya’s arrest.

Malihe was initially told she must pay 3 billion tomans for bail ($150,000), but the sum was later reduced, leading to her release on 5 September.

Malihe is married with two sons aged 23 and 16, and her eldest son has been battling with cancer for the past three years.

Maryam, Marjan & Fatemeh

In 2020, Maryam Falahi was fined, banned for life from working at any national institution, and lost custody of her two-year-old adopted daughter.

Sisters Maryam and Marjan Falahi and their friend Fatemeh Talebi were among seven Christian converts given sentences in June 2020 ranging from prison and exile to work restrictions and fines.

Maryam, a nurse, was given a lifetime ban from working for any national institution, such as the hospital at which she had worked for 20 years. She was also fined 8 million tomans (around $400), while her sister Marjan was fined 6 million tomans (around $300), and Fatemeh 4 million tomans (around $200).

In a separate verdict in July 2020, a judge ruled to remove Maryam’s adoptive daughter from her care – because she and her husbands are Christians and their daughter is considered a Muslim. The verdict was upheld by an appeal court in September.

Shamiram

Iranian-Assyrian Christian Shamiram Issavi fled Iran in August 2020 with her husband Victor Bet-Tamraz, after being summoned to serve her five-year sentence for “acting against national security by establishing and managing house- churches, participating in Christian seminars abroad, and training Christian leaders in Iran for the purposes of espionage”.

Shamiram’s sentence was pronounced in January 2018, but it wasn’t until she was summoned, more than two and a half years later, that Shamiram finally learned her appeal had failed.

Her daughter, Dabrina, told Article18 the long wait and numerous scheduled and postponed court hearings had in themselves been a kind of “torture”.

Fatemeh & Simin

Christian converts Fatemeh Sharifi and Simin Soheilinia were sentenced to 10 years in prison in October 2020 for “acting against national security” by “forming an illegal evangelical Christian group”.

During their trial in June 2020, they were accused of “widespread association with missionary groups, as well as evangelical Christian groups outside the country – in Russia, Georgia, Turkey, and Armenia”.

The judge, Mohammad Moghiseh, would not listen to their defence, only citing the report of the intelligence agent and telling them: “Your actions are worthy of death! Who set this low bail amount for you, so you could be free to roam about on the streets?”