A Christian convert’s appeal against his five-year prison sentence has not been adjudicated more than a year after his third conviction on repeated charges related to his new faith, a source knowledgeable about the case told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Ebrahim Firoozi, a 31-year-old welder from the city of Robat Karim (16 miles southwest of Tehran), is being held in Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj (12 miles west of Tehran). He was initially arrested in January 2010 for converting from Islam to Christianity and allegedly organizing Christian religious meetings.
During his first arrest he was told he would be freed if he declared himself a Muslim, a source told the Campaign. After Firoozi refused, the Revolutionary Court in Karaj convicted him of “propaganda against the state” for his religious conversion and alleged missionary activities and sentenced him to five months in prison with an additional five-month suspended prison sentence. He was freed on June 8, 2011.
Firoozi was arrested a second time on March 8, 2012 for allegedly “attempting to create a website teaching about Christianity” (in order to convert people) and again charged with “propaganda against the state” for which he was sentenced to one year in prison and two years in exile by Judge Hassan Babaee of the Revolutionary Court in Robat Karim. The Appeals Court upheld the decision.
The Christian convert was arrested a third time on September 16, 2013 and held in Ward 240, which is under the control of the Intelligence Ministry, in Evin Prison in Tehran where he was “insulted for his beliefs” and pressured to give false confessions, the source told the Campaign.
In April 2015 Judge Mohammad Moghisseh of Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Firoozi to five years in prison for allegedly “creating a group with the intention of disturbing national security.”
“Ebrahim objected to and appealed the sentence a year ago, but the final verdict has still not been decided,” said the source.
The source added that the repeated prosecution of Firoozi for charges he has already been convicted of violates Article 7 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Iran in 1975, which states: “No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.”
Meanwhile Firoozi is being denied access to state-sanctioned religious books that he had ordered from outside the prison.
“For more than a year the [Rajaee Shahr] prison’s authorities have refused to deliver the books Ebrahim had personally purchased, even though they have all been published with the permission of the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry,” the source told the Campaign.
Article 148 of Iran’s Prison Regulations Code allows prisoners to maintain access to items associated with their faith.
Despite President Hassan Rouhani’s pledges during his election campaign in 2013 that “All ethnicities, all religions, even religious minorities, must feel justice,” the targeting of Christian converts has continued unabated under his administration.
Maryam (Nasim) Naghash Zargaran, a Christian convert who has been imprisoned since 2013 while suffering from several ailments, has been home with her family on a five-day furlough (temporary leave) since June 6, 2016 following her life-threatening hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Now her family is repeating their demand for her permanent release.
Maryam (Nasim) Naghash Zargaran
“We are happy they gave her furlough, but that’s not why my daughter went on a hunger strike. We want her to be free,” Zargaran’s mother, Zahra Pour-Nouhi Langroudi, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “Maryam has served a third of her sentence and by law she qualifies for conditional release. We don’t know why she was sentenced to four years in prison in the first place.”
Langroudi added that Zargaran began her most recent hunger strike on May 29, 2016 after an Intelligence Ministry representative falsely led her to believe that one of her convictions could be overturned.
Zargaran has said she will resume her hunger strike if she is not formally released by July 7, 2016, according to her mother.
“Maryam was sentenced to four years in prison on two charges, but they had no evidence to support either one,” said Langroudi. “They accused her of preaching Christianity in Babolsar (145 miles north of Tehran) with 20 other women, but no one [was presented in court] to prove that he or she had been converted to Christianity by Maryam.”
“During the trial Judge Moghisseh joked with his staff and said: ‘What should I do, Haji? How many years do you think I should give her? Is five years good?’ And then his colleague said: ‘No! She’s too young-poor thing.’ Judge Moghisseh then said he would sentence her to four years,” said Langroudi.
“Can a judge joke like this about sentencing someone? Shouldn’t he stick to the law and base his decision on evidence?” added Langroudi.
Langroudi also informed the Campaign that her daughter would be going to the hospital during her five-day furlough to receive treatment for health problems that have been exacerbated by her hunger strike.
“Maryam is suffering from heart, ear, and spinal disc ailments, and neck and hand arthritis. She had heart disease before she was sent to prison and underwent an operation for it last year,” said Langroudi. “The doctors had told her that she must absolutely avoid stressful situations, but the other problems with her ear, back and arthritis are the result of her imprisonment.”
Since March 2011, Zargaran, a children’s music teacher, was regularly summoned and interrogated by security police about her alleged Christian missionary activities. She was eventually arrested on November 5, 2012 and accused of seeking property in northern Iran for an orphanage along with converted Christian pastor Saeed Abedini before he was also imprisoned for his religious beliefs in 2013.
Abedini, an Iranian-American dual national, spent eight years in prison on proselytization charges until he was released in January 2016 along with two other Iranian-Americans following a prisoner swap deal between Iran and the United Sates.
In 2013, despite having no access to legal counsel, Zargaran was sentenced to four years in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court, presided by Judge Mohammad Moghisseh, for “assembly and collusion against national security.” The Appeals Court later upheld the sentence.
Zargaran began serving her sentence on July 15, 2013 in Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward. She has been granted furlough twice to receive specialized medical treatment.
Iran’s Protestant Christian and Christian convert community are subjected to severe persecution and discrimination, and are prosecuted vigorously for what authorities view are their proselytizing activities.
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