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Iranian-Armenian Christian prisoner’s family see him for first time in seven weeks

Iranian-Armenian Christian prisoner’s family see him for first time in seven weeks

The wife and son of an Iranian-Armenian Christian who remains in detention seven weeks after his arrest were able to visit him for the first time on Tuesday.

Joseph Shahbazian was said to be in good health, though unshaven and therefore scruffier than usual in appearance.

It remains unclear where the 56-year-old is being held, as he was driven, blindfolded, to the courthouse where they met and has been blindfolded every time he has been let out of his cell, which he shares with one other prisoner.

Joseph remains in prison as his family have not yet been able to raise the 3 billion tomans (around $150,000) stipulated for his bail – the highest bail amount ever set for an Iranian Christian prisoner of conscience.

They have raised 2.5 billion tomans, which they have asked the prison authorities to accept. However, they are yet to receive a judge’s decision.

Joseph was arrested on the evening of 30 June, as part of a coordinated operation targeting the homes and house-churches of dozens of Christians in Tehran, Karaj and Malayer on 30 June and 1 July.

Of the at least 35 Christians who were either interrogated or arrested, only Joseph and Malihe Nazari, a 46-year-old woman convert, remain detained.

Malihe is believed to have been transferred to the notorious Qarchak women’s prison, where there are fears for her health given an outbreak of the coronavirus there and in other overcrowded prisons within Iran.

Last week Article18 reported an outbreak at Evin Prison, where Christian convert Mohammad Ali (Yasser) Mossayebzadeh was among 12 prisoners to test positive for Covid-19. 

A further three converts – Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Yousef Nadarkhani and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee – were not tested but showed symptoms of the virus, including a prolonged fever.

Saheb and Yousef’s health has reportedly since improved, though Nasser remains unwell and there is no news on Yasser.

Earlier this week, another Christian convert incarcerated in the same prison ward, Mohammadreza (Youhan) Omidi, was released after two years.

However, he was informed he must report back to the prison authorities within 15 days to begin his exile in the southwestern city of Borazjan.

Youhan has a wife and two teenage daughters and it is as yet unclear whether they would be permitted to join him in exile.