Christian activist arrested while filing complaint about assault

Christian activist arrested while filing complaint about assault

A young female Christian convert and activist who spent six months in prison for her membership of a Tehran house-church was arrested on Tuesday for “improper” hijab, HRANA reports.

Fatemeh Mohammadi, 19, who completed her jail sentence in the spring of last year, initially went to the police to complain she had been assaulted by a woman wearing a chador, who had taken issue with her “improper” wearing of her headscarf on a bus.

But when Fatemeh complained to police, the chador-wearing woman was released and Fatemeh was detained – until 3am on Wednesday morning, when she was released with a warning.

Fatemeh is a rare activist among Christians in Iran, and especially converts. She writes on a variety of social issues and has also run a campaign called “KHMA” (from the Persian for “Church is Christians’ Right”), which petitions for all Christians, including converts, to be given the right to worship in a church.

She has fearlessly campaigned, despite the knowledge that her activism will likely land her in prison again.

Earlier this year, Fatemeh wrote an open letter to Iran’s Minister of Intelligence, accusing him of violating the constitution by targeting Christians.

This came after Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi publicly admitted to “inviting” Christian families for questioning to ask them why they had converted.

In her letter, Fatemeh accused 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 added that intelligence officials were wrong to search the properties of the converts because the Christians had committed no crime, and said 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 HRANA, referenced 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 queried 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 asked.

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

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

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

She said 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 in January, 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. Article18 is aware of the arrests of at least a further 37 Christians so far this year.