Despite scores of prisoners being released due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Iranian government has decided to hand a leading Christian human rights campaigner a suspended three-month prison sentence and subject her to ten excruciating lashes.
Mary Fatemeh Mohammadi has been closely monitored by the Iranian regime for a number of years and was recently detained for being present in the area of a protest over the government’s shooting down of Ukrainian Airline Flight 752.
On Instagram, Mohammadi said her sentencing was due to her “protesting against the slaughter of human beings; because of showing sympathy for the families of those who perished on the Ukraine airline crash” and “because of defending the rights of all humans.”
Following her arrest, Mary disappeared for a month, before being discovered at Qarchak Women’s Prison, where she suffered brutal mistreatment. Eventually, she was released $2,250 bail and charged with “disrupting public order by participating in an illegal rally.”
According to International Christian Concern, At her April 17 court hearing Mary was questioned repeatedly about her Christian beliefs by the judge.
Following her sentencing, she tweeted:
“There is no evidence against me, so I ought to have been acquitted. But instead I was sentenced not only to imprisonment, but also flogging. It should be mentioned that even before the verdict was handed down, I was forced to endure all kinds of torture, none of which was sanctioned by law, and which ought to be considered crimes in themselves. We have refrained from appealing against the verdict because the appeal courts have turned into confirmation courts! I am proud of sympathizing with human beings in the real harsh environment of the streets. This is my conviction and the cost.”
In contrast to Mary’s case, a number of believers have actually been freed from Iran’s prisons in recent weeks, as part of a mass release program enacted in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus among inmates.
In March, a Christian woman named Fatemeh Bakhteri was furloughed from prison after being sentenced to a year behind bars on charges of “spreading propaganda against the regime.” Later, Bakhteri — who arrested while hosting a house church meeting — was told she would not have to return to jail as part of a pardon granted to certain inmates as a gesture of goodwill for Persian New Year.
During her trial, the judge told Fatemeh that the charges would be dropped if she simply renounced her Christian faith. She repeatedly refused.
Two other Christians — Pastor Amin Khaki and Rokhsare Ghanbari — have also been released from Iranian prisons.
Still, many remain behind bars in a nation that has become wel-known for its oppression of Christianity and dire record on human rights.
“We must not let the number of political prisoners furloughed in Iran because of COVID-19 confuse the issue that Iran has always been one of the top human rights violators in the world,” said ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, Claire Evans.
“The authorities have made it clear, time and time again, that they do not value their citizens and that they will not tolerate freedom of conscience. The sentencing of Mary Mohammadi is alarming, but unfortunately, not surprising. Iran’s government does not want human rights activism, and they do not want Christians exercising their voice publicly.”
“Mary Mohammadi is an example of courage and bravery to us all. We must continue calling on Iran to respect human rights and allow its citizens voice their convictions of conscience.”
Tensions have heightened between the U.S. and Iran in recent days after the Pentagon announced that gunboats from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy had taken “dangerous and provocative” actions near U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf.
On Wednesday, President Trump responded by tweeting that he had instructed the Navy to “shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”