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Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi arrested in Tehran

Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi arrested in Tehran

Twitter @Marymohammadii

Christian convert Fatemeh Mohammadi has been arrested in Tehran and taken to an unknown location, according to the Persian-language news agency HRANA.

The 21-year-old, who after her conversion now prefers to be known as Mary, was reportedly arrested on Sunday near Azadi Square, where protests were taking place following the Iranian government’s admission of guilt in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane.

A number of protesters were reportedly arrested on Sunday evening, as protests took place in several Iranian cities, though it is as yet unclear whether Mary was partaking in any demonstration.

There has since been no news of Mary’s safety or whereabouts and her family are said to be very concerned about her.

On the day of her arrest, Mary published a series of tweets in which she said the Iranian people were facing “soft repression” through being spoon-fed only news that the regime wanted them to read.

In her tweets, she used hashtags that, when translated, mean “hard-pressed” and “suppression is the norm”.

She added that tackling “soft repression” is even harder than tackling the “hard repression” of batons and tear gas and said the Iranian regime is “institutionalising false beliefs through selective coverage of the news”, and “lies that are bigger and more repetitive make them more believable”.

As Article18 has reported, Mary is a rare example of a Christian activist still living in Iran and she has already spent six months in prison as a result of her Christian activity, which was deemed “action against national security” and “propaganda against the system”.

Last month Mary, an English-language student, was kicked out of her Tehran university, without explanation, on the eve of her exams.

She told Article18 she believed she had been expelled as a result of her prior conviction and human rights activism.

“The denial of basic and fundamental rights, such as the right to education, certainly can act as a pressure mechanism and is used as a lever to apply pressure on religious minorities and human rights activists in the hope that individuals will halt their activities and abandon their beliefs,” she said.

“Depriving me of my education is certainly intended to exert pressure upon me, and silence me.”

Background

Last year Mary faced fresh criminal charges relating to her “improper” wearing of hijab. The charges, which were eventually quashed, were brought against her after she initially went to police to complain of an assault.

Mary is active on social media and just a day before being kicked out of university tweeted about the cases of ten fellow Christian converts currently in prison in Iran as a result of their peaceful religious activities.

In a series of tweets, Mary highlighted the sentencing of nine converts in Rasht to five years in prison and the one-year sentence given to a 61-year-old fellow woman convert in Karaj, the sister city to Mary’s home city of Tehran.

“Christmas is fast approaching, and security officials are lurking behind Christians,” Mary wrote, in Persian, in a tweet that also included a link to the video recorded by 61-year-old Rokhsareh Ghanbari before she took herself to prison to begin her sentence.

Asked by Article18 whether she believed her tweets may have led to her expulsion from university, she responded: 

“Of course, all the activities, writings, statements and any action taken by members of minority groups and activists, especially those living in Iran, is constantly monitored by the Islamic Republic… Any such activism could lead to being denied a right, and my recent tweets may have made the authorities even more determined.”

Iran is the ninth hardest place to be a Christian, according to the annual report from religious-freedom watchdog Open Doors International, released yesterday.

Mary referenced the analysis of Open Doors in her recent interview with Article18, saying “it is impossible to provide a comprehensive assessment of the overall situation of Christians in Iran because we don’t have access to all the information about the rights violations against them … but what is striking is that, according to the statistics released every year by organisations such as Open Doors about the numbers of Christians in the world and the countries in which they are most persecuted – and the Islamic Republic’s authorities’ own admission of the growth of Christianity in Iran as a result of conversions – the Islamic Republic, which does not tolerate the right to choose religion, or freedom of thought, is now likely to feel more threatened and weakened and to therefore intensify its battle against these people”.

Campaign

Last year, Mary began a campaign calling for all Iranian Christians – whether from Christian families or converts – to be permitted to go to church.

When asked by Article18 whether she feared for her safety, she responded that she was ready to return to prison, if necessary, in order to fight for the rights of Christians in Iran.

In an article for HRANA, Mary challenged the common misconception that, as there are over 300 churches in Iran and Christians are one of the few “recognised” religious minorities, they are free to practise their faith in Iran.

In fact, as Mary pointed out, those churches are only accessible to members of Iran’s historically “Christian” Armenian and Assyrian communities, whose numbers have fallen dramatically from around 300,000 to perhaps a third of that as a result of emigration, and not the ever-growing community of “Persian Christians” – converts from a Muslim background, of whom there are believed to be between 500,000 and 800,000.

And, as Article18 has reported, even the “recognised” Christians are treated as second-class citizens and closely monitored to ensure they don’t share their faith with Muslim-born Iranians. 

Mary said she believes not enough is known about the situation of Christians in Iran – particularly converts – compared to the significant amount of publicity and advocacy work relating to other rights issues.

“When people talk about women’s rights or against the death penalty, everyone is supporting them. But every time you talk about Christians’ rights, many people say it’s impossible,” she said. “I want to use the campaign to educate people that converts are [considered] inferior.”

And while she said she was not optimistic about the chances of her campaign succeeding, she said she hopes that one day all Christians in Iran will be able to “have a place to praise God, without security guards”.