Easter release for Iranian Christian convert

Easter release for Iranian Christian convert

Iranian Christian convert Fatemeh (Aylar) Bakhtari has been told she does not need to return to prison to complete her sentence.

The 36-year-old is the third convert in the past few weeks to receive such news, after Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari, 62, and Amin Khaki, 36.

Aylar was initially given temporary leave from Tehran’s Evin Prison on 15 March, as one of tens of thousands of prisoners given furloughs due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Earlier this month, Aylar was later told that her leave was to be extended. However, when she called the prison on Easter Day, Aylar was informed that she had in fact been pardoned, as one of 10,000 prisoners freed on the occasion of the Persian New Year, or Nowruz.

Aylar completed a little over half of her one-year sentence for “propaganda against the regime” – a charge related to her membership of a house-church.

Mahrokh and Amin were also serving sentences – of 12 and 14 months respectively – on the same charge and basis.

Mahrokh was told on 3 April that she would not need to return to prison. Amin was informed three days later. They are still waiting for their bail amounts of 30 million tomans (around $2,000) and 50 million tomans (around $3,000), respectively, to be returned to them.

Mary Mohammadi appears in court

Meanwhile, a court hearing took place today for fellow Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi, 21, relating to her alleged participation in the January protests following the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s admission of guilt in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane.

Mary’s hearing had previously been scheduled for 2 March, but was postponed due to coronavirus.

After her hearing was set for 14 April, Mary tweeted that it would be a “crime against humanity” to send anyone to prison under the current circumstances.

Mary has been charged with “disturbing public order by participating in an illegal rally”.

During the hearing, the judge questioned Mary about her religious views, even though the charges were unrelated to her faith.

Mary has previously spent six months in prison for her membership of a Tehran house-church, and in December she was kicked out of university without explanation.

The judge cited no evidence against her, saying that her presence in the area where the rally was taking place was evidence in itself.

Mary was told to expect the verdict soon, though no precise timescale was given.

Imprisoned Christians

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

At least ten Iranian Christians remain in prison, despite repeated calls by rights groups for all prisoners of conscience to be released.

They include four Christians whose convictions are currently being reviewed: Yousef Nadarkhani, 42, Mohammad Reza (Yohan) Omidi, 46, and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, 36, and Nasser Navard Gol Tapeh, 58. 

Both Nasser and Saheb have suffered health issues and their families are especially concerned about them. 

The other Christians 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.