2nd June, 2016

A convert to Christianity imprisoned for her involvement in the Iranian house-church movement has gone on a hunger strike to protest denial of needed medical treatment, religious freedom advocates said.

Maryam Naghash Zargaran, 36, started her hunger strike on 27th May because a prosecutor has repeatedly denied permission to transport her from Evin Prison in Tehran to a nearby hospital for treatment for a variety of medical issues, according to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).

“She has refused solids and liquids and has not allowed prison medical staff to give her serum,” MEC leaders said in a press statement. “Sources close to the family say that her condition is serious, and that Maryam is close to becoming comatose.”

Zargaran suffers from heart problems and also has severe headaches accompanied by ear pain.

“Although the medical authorities in the prison recognize the severity of her condition and the need for treatment, the prosecutor’s office has refused to allow Maryam to leave prison to receive adequate care,” MEC leaders stated.

Zargaran’s medical conditions date back to at least October, 2015, when she was allowed to visit a hospital for a few days, but authorities forced her to return to prison before she could receive full treatment. Prisoners in Zargaran’s ward showed their support for her by refusing visitors on 29th May.

Iranian officials arrested Zargaran in January, 2013, for her activities in the Iranian house-church movement and her association with Saeed Abedini, a US-Iranian Christian released by the Iranian government in January after serving more than three years of an eight-year sentence on charges of “threatening national security” by planting churches. Zargaran was found guilty of the same charge and sentenced to four years in prison, which she began serving on 13th July, 2013. An appeal for retrial was denied.

MEC also reported that two Christian converts from Islam detained earlier this month by Iranian authorities were released on bail.

Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie were each released on approximately $US33,000 bail over the weekend. Mossayebzadeh was released on Saturday and Fadaie on Sunday.

On 13th May, Iranian security agents raided 10 house churches in Rasht, including the home of Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor who was charged with apostasy and sentenced to death in 2010. Nadarkhani was acquitted of apostasy charges, but served three years in prison for evangelising and was eventually released in December, 2013.

Nadarkhani and his wife, Fatemeh Pasandideh, were taken into custody the day of the raid along with Mossayebzadeh. The pastor and Pasandideh were released later the same day, but Mossayebzadeh remained in custody.

Sometime during or immediately after the raids, Fadaie and another convert, Mohammedreza Omidi, were ordered to report to Iranian security officials, their homes were raided and their computers and Christian literature were seized. Omidi remains in Lakan Prison; it is unknown why he was not released.

Mossayebzadeh, Fadaie and Omidi have all been arrested before - in raids conducted in 2015. In 2013, Omidi was sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking Communion wine and possession of a satellite reception center.

Rob Duncan, MEC’s regional manager for Iran, said the 13th May raid was another effort to attack the leadership of the house-church movement in Iran. Nadarkhani and Pasandideh were interrogated for a considerable period of time and an “implicit threat” was made against their family to either leave or stop their Christian ministry.

“His wife was more or less threatened, not openly, but they implied that her family could suffer if they continued like this,” Duncan said adding that the reasons the government is attacking church leadership is clear. “Once you remove the leadership, the sheep are basically without shepherds, and easier to control by the government authorities, and easier to threaten.”

- Morning Star News