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Iran: Christian Maryam Naghash Zargaran released after four years in prison
02 August 2017
After four years' imprisonment for 'acting against national security', Iranian Christian Maryam Naghash Zargaran has been released from Tehran's Evin prison.
Maryam was released on 1 August; she had been due for release on 27 July, but this was delayed without explanation.
Maryam, 39, a convert from Islam, was first questioned by intelligence officers in January 2010 because of her work with underground churches, or 'house churches'. She was arrested in January 2013, alongside Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, in connection with their work at an orphanage and both were sentenced a few months later. (Abedini was released in January 2016, following pressure from the US government.)
While in prison Maryam was harassed and repeatedly denied medical treatment for longstanding medical issues. (She underwent heart surgery ten years ago and needs regular medical check-ups.) Amnesty International referenced her case when it accused Iran of 'cruel' denial of medical care in its prisons.
On a handful of occasions she was allowed to leave prison temporarily to receive treatment, but each time forced to return before it could be completed. Maryam even had her sentence extended by six weeks to make up for the time she had spent outside prison.
In protest against her treatment, she undertook a series of hunger strikes. According to her family, her imprisonment has traumatised her and left her suffering with depression.
'What have I done to make you hate me?'
Maryam is not the only prisoner to protest through going on a hunger strike. Recently Amin Afshar Naderi, a Christian sentenced to 15 years in jail, was let out on bail after going three weeks without food. He wrote an open letter to authorities declaring that he had decided to 'terminate my life slowly' through a hunger strike.
His letter begins with a powerful challenge.
'What have I done against you and our country that made you hate me this much? I have learned from the Bible to love my enemies and to pray for those who hate me. But what have you actually learned?
'I have learned not to speak in abusive language; what have YOU learned? You were using rude language during the interrogation, you made fun of my beliefs and attacked my monotheistic religion; I have never insulted you, not because I did not have the power to do so , but deep inside I have always prayed for your health.'
He went on to protest about having to tolerate 'all the insults from my inmates, the prison guards and you all, while I have not done anything wrong and have been deprived of basic needs. However, I have always prayed for you to be fair and just.'
Amin Afshar-Naderi, who is said to be 'very unwell', had to sign over property deeds worth 80,000 US dollars to secure his bail, which is reliant upon the outcome of an appeal.
Thank you for your prayers
Thank you for all your prayers for Maryam and for other Iranian Christians imprisoned for their faith.
Christians in Iran face severe restrictions on their freedom to worship. Only Armenians and Assyrians are allowed to be Christians, and even they are treated as second class citizens. Muslim-background believers often meet in house churches, but these are frequently monitored by secret police and raided. At least 193 Christians were arrested or imprisoned in Iran in 2016.
Please continue to remember these brothers and sisters in your prayers. Pray especially for Ebrahim Firouzi, 30, who has also begun a hunger strike to protest against Iran's treatment of converts to Christianity. He has five years left of his own sentence for 'acting against national security', and recently wrote a statement criticising the Iranian government for 'unjust and hefty verdicts and sentences against new Christian believers and converts to the point that in recent months tens of Christians have been sentenced to long years of imprisonment'.
Source: World Watch Monitor; Open Doors
- That Maryam will quickly return to full health
- For Amin Afshar Naderi out on bail, and for Ebrahim Firouzi, on hunger strike in jail. For courage and that justice will be done
- That Christians in Iran will know God's faithfulness and protection.
More News from Iran:
- Christians given harsh prison sentences
- What will re-election of Rouhani mean for Christians?
- Your letters bring joy to Pastor Behnam
- Christians sentenced to 80 lashes for taking communion
- Maryam's prison sentence extended because of medical leave
Find out more about persecution in Iran.