Iran Updates on Prisoners of Conscience: Fatemeh Bakhteri and Mary Mohammadi

Background: Iran remains one of USCIRF’s recommendations for the designation as a Country of Particular Concern in regards to international religious freedom. As an Islamic nation, religious minorities such as Baha’is and Christians are routinely detained for apostasy, blasphemy, and evangelism. According to USCIRF, “Iran harasses, fines, and arrests those who dissent from its interpretation of Ja’afri Shi’a Islam. The government uses its official religious interpretation as an ongoing basis for denying freedom of religion and belief to citizens who express dissent through peaceful protest.”

Fatemeh Bakhteri is an Iranian Christian convert who was arrested in 2017 during a house worship she was conducting at her home. In August 2019, Fatemeh was formally convicted of “spreading propaganda against the regime” and sentenced to one year at the notorious Evin Prison, along with restrictions on her social activity following her release. According to Church in Chains, “the verdict stated that believing in the Bible’s authority and Jesus as Lord are attacks against Islam…”

Amidst the outbreak of covid-19, Iran has released some 85,000 prisoners in order to mitigate the spread of the extremely contagious disease within these often overcrowded detention centers, including some Christian prisoners of conscience. In mid-March, Iran released Fatemeh from prison temporarily, with no promise that she would be formally released before her sentence was up. However, on April 12, Fatemeh was informed that she had been “pardoned for Persian New Year (Nowruz)” and that she no longer needed to return to Evin Prison for the remaining few months of her sentence.

Unfortunately, such lenience has not been the case of other religious and political prisoners. Christian convert Mary Mohammadi was arrested in January 2020 for her participation in Tehran protests against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran’s attack on a Ukrainian passenger flight, leading to the untimely deaths of approximately 175 individuals. Upon her arrest, Mary was transported through a few different detention facilities during which she was subjected to physical abuse, starvation, and humiliation, before she was ultimately transferred to Qarchak Prison.

Mary’s formal charges were “disrupting public order by participating in an illegal gathering,” however she was released on a US$ 2,000 bail and was scheduled to have a court hearing in early March. On April 14, Mary’s court hearing was finally held after being postponed for just over a month amidst the spread of the novel coronavirus. Despite the high hopes for Mary’s acquittal, Middle East Concern reports that Mary was sentenced to three months in prison as well as flogging by 10 lashes. Mary stated that the judge presiding over her case had repeatedly interrogated her regarding her religious conversion, which had no relationship to her arrest this year or subsequent charges. This begs the question of whether the depth of Mary’s sentencing and punishment has anything to do with the scrutiny over her faith.

Middle East Concern reported that Mary took to her personal Instagram account on April 21, stating that she was unjustly convicted “because of showing sympathy for the families of those who perished on the Ukraine airline crash…there was no evidence against me, so I ought to have been acquitted, but instead I was sentenced not only to imprisonment, but also flogging…”

Please pray that Mary will miraculously be released. Iran does carry out flogging penalties. Please pray that Mary will be delivered from such a draconian and brutal punishment. The world needs to rise up and oppose that brutal, uncivilized punishment.
Here is her public twitter account: