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Jailed woman convert accuses Intelligence Minister of ‘violating constitution’

Jailed woman convert accuses Intelligence Minister of ‘violating constitution’

Fatemeh Mohammadi (HRANA)

A young woman who was jailed for six months for being part of a Tehran “house church” has written an open letter to Iran’s Minister of Intelligence, accusing him of violating the constitution by targeting Christians.

Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi admitted earlier this month to “inviting” Christian families for questioning to ask them why they had converted.

In her letter, Fatemeh Mohammadi, 19, accuses him of violating Article 23 of the constitution, which states that “no-one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief”. 

She adds that intelligence officials were wrong to search the properties of the converts because the Christians had committed no crime, and says they were “summoned”, not invited, to “inspect their opinion and attempt to remove them from their beliefs”.

Fatemeh was arrested at a house-church meeting in November 2017 and sentenced to six months in prison in April 2018; she was then released, owing to time already served in the women’s ward of the notorious Evin Prison. 

Her letter, which was published by the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), references Mr. Alavi’s acknowledgment that the Christians who were questioned were “ordinary people”, who had jobs “such as selling sandwiches”. As Article18 reported, this statement marked a huge shift away from Iran’s usual rhetoric that converts are agents of the West who have undergone significant training to undermine national security. 

Fatemeh’s letter queries whether the members of her house church were not also “ordinary”, saying it comprised “several housewives, a salesperson, guard, agricultural engineer, taxi driver, student and others with similar professions … aged between 19 and 60”.

“Were we not ‘ordinary people’ who were threatened by plainclothes agents who searched the house and ransacked everything, without hesitating?” she asks.

Fatemeh also questions why Christians are prevented from “talking about their ideas with their peers”, while Muslims can freely engage in “propaganda” at schools, universities, mosques and shrines.

She adds that those who had been interrogated would no doubt have seen all these advertisements about Islam, yet, “for whatever reason, they have decided to believe in Christianity, while they are not allowed to go to church, will not hear church bells … not see Christian TV and not have the experts available to them to add to their information”.

She calls for “open, free and secure spaces” where people can discuss their ideas with “peace of mind” and says “identifying Christians in an attempt to harass them and inquire into their beliefs is a flagrant violation of the constitution and other domestic and international laws”

Fatemeh also calls on human rights groups to do more to highlight the “oppression” of Persian-speaking Christians in Iran, whom she says are an overlooked minority, recognised and researched only by the international community.

She says Iranian officials should devote their energies to compiling statistics on the numbers of converts in order to “learn the well-founded roots of their problems in this country and society as Christians, not identifying them just for the purpose of inspecting their opinions”.

Fatemeh published another letter in June last year, in which she accused her interrogators of sexual harassment.

Fatemeh was arrested alongside Majidreza Souzanchi, 35, who is still in Evin Prison, serving a five-year sentence – for his membership of the house church and “conducting evangelism” – that in January was reduced to two years

Both of their cases were highlighted in Article18’s annual report, which documented rights violations against Christians in 2018. Majidreza was one of at least 14 Christians still in prison in Iran at the start of 2019.