Christian convert, 62, released from prison, leave extended for two others

Christian convert, 62, released from prison, leave extended for two others

Mahrokh Ghanbari (right) has been told she does not need to return to prison. Aylar Bakhtari (left) and Amin Khaki have had their leave extended by 15 days.

A 62-year-old Iranian woman convert to Christianity has been told she does not need to return to prison to complete her one-year sentence for “propaganda against the regime”.

Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari was one of at least seven Christians among the tens of thousands of Iranian prisoners given temporary leave from prison in the past few weeks, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Mahrokh returned to Shahid Kachooei Prison in her home city of Karaj yesterday, only to be told she was “no longer needed”. 

She is hoping to receive back the 30 million tomans (around $2,000) she deposited for bail in the coming days. 

Mahrokh had served a little over four months of her one-year sentence.

Meanwhile, two other converts on temporary leave from prison – Fatemeh (Aylar) Bakhtari and Amin Khaki, both 36 years old – have had their leave extended until the end of the current Persian-calendar month, equivalent to 18 April.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, welcomed Mahrokh’s release and the extension to Aylar and Amin’s leave. 

He added: “We hope that Aylar and Amin’s leave will also be turned into permanent release, as being forced to return to prison is not only unjust but can also put them in serious risk under the current circumstances.”

Aylar began her one-year jail sentence on 31 August 2019 at Tehran’s Evin Prison. Amin began his 14-month sentence at the central detention centre in Karaj on 6 July 2019. Like Mahrokh, both were convicted of “propaganda against the regime”, as a result of the peaceful practice of their faith.

Amin and Mahrokh were among the first cohort of prisoners given 36 days’ leave on 2 March, as well as another convert who cannot be identified, as Iran responded to continued calls from human rights groups to release prisoners of conscience, amidst fears the country’s overcrowded prisons could become a hotbed for the disease to spread.

Two weeks later, on 15 March, Aylar was also given temporary leave

Previously, on 26 February, Iranian-Assyrian Christian Ramiel Bet-Tamraz, 35, was released from prison three weeks ahead of schedule, as was another Christian convert who cannot be identified. 

On the same day, Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi, 21, was released on bail of 30 million tomans ($2,000), pending a court hearing five days later, which was later postponed to 14 April.

Mary tweeted that the decision to continue scheduling court cases and imprisoning people during the coronavirus crisis should be considered a “crime against humanity”.

It is also believed that Majidreza Souzanchi, 36, who is coming to the end of his two-year sentence, has been or is soon to be released.

10 Christians still detained

Clockwise from top left: Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Zaman Fadaie, Mohammad Reza Omidi, and Yousef Nadarkhani.

However, 10 Iranian Christians serving longer sentences of between five and ten years remain in prison, despite calls for their release.

This includes four whose convictions are currently being reviewed.

Yousef Nadarkhani, 42, Mohammad Reza (Yohan) Omidi, 46, and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, 36, have made several requests for release on bail since their retrials were accepted in October, and their families are increasingly anxious about them.

The same is true for the family of Nasser Navard Gol Tapeh, who is 58 years old and has suffered several health issues

Nasser was finally granted a retrial in February, having initially been denied in October.

Saheb has also suffered health issues, and was recently denied treatment in prison despite suffering from a fever and hallucinating.

The others still detained are Mohammad Ali Mossayezbazeh, who was sentenced alongside Yousef, Saheb and Yohan; and Abdolreza (Matthias) Ali-Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, and Behnam Akhlaghi, who recently lost their appeals against five-year sentences.

All of them, apart from Nasser, are from the northern city of Rasht and are part of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran”. 

Four more “Church of Iran” members from Rasht – Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammad Vafadar – are currently out on bail, awaiting summonses to serve their own five-year sentences, having lost their appeals alongside Abdolreza, Shahrooz, Babak, Mehdi and Behnam.

Several other Christians are currently enmeshed in ongoing court cases, including Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram and three Christian converts – Amin Afshar-Naderi, Hadi Asgari and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi – whose appeal hearings have been repeatedly postponed. Their next hearing is scheduled for 1 June.

For an up-to-date list of all known court proceedings involving Iranian Christians, see our Prisoners List.