Half of those arrested in recent months could face apostasy charges.
ISTANBUL, January 28 (Compass Direct News) – At least 14 Christians have been detained in Iranian prisons for weeks without legal counsel in the past few months as last year’s crackdown has continued, sources said.
Three Christians remained in detention at Evin prison after authorities arrested them along with 12 others who had gathered for Christmas celebrations on Dec. 24 in a home 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Iran’s capital, Tehran, according to a source who requested anonymity.
While the others were released on Jan. 4, remaining at Evin prison were Maryam Jalili, Mitra Zahmati and Farzan Matin, according to the source. Jalili is married and has two children.
Matin sounded ill in a short phone conversation this week to his family, the source said.
“Maybe he caught a cold, maybe it’s something else, but for sure they are under heavy pressure,” the source said. “They are not allowed visits from family. It doesn’t seem good.”
Security forces went to the homes of all the detainees and confiscated their books, computers and other literature, according to Farsi Christian News Network. None of the Christians have had access to legal counsel or representation.
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“Normally they eventually release them,” said an Iranian source of the Dec. 24 arrests. “They never keep one person forever … but we don’t know when. We are used to living with this kind of government. Therefore we try our best and seek what God will do, and pray that they don’t keep them so long.”
The source said authorities have promised the release of the three Christians arrested Dec. 24 but have yet to let them go.
“They called their families, and they were told they would be released after bail … but then they didn’t [release them],” he said of the three Christians held in Evin.
Within days after the Dec. 24 arrest, Jalili’s sister, Mobina Jalili, and another Christian were arrested in Isfahan. The source said these two have had no contact with their families. The location and conditions of their detainment are unknown.
In the southwestern city of Shiraz, seven Christians were being detained as of Jan. 11, another source said, and most of them may face charges of apostasy, or leaving Islam.
Family members who have spoken with the arrested Christians said authorities have told the detainees – with the exception of one who was not born a Muslim – that they are guilty of apostasy, the source said.
The names of those detained in Shiraz are Parviz Khaladj, Mehdi Furutan, Roxana Furouyi, Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani, Abdol Reza Ali Haghnejad, Iman Farzad and one identified only as Mahyar.
Another Christian in the northern city of Rasht, Davoot Nejatsabet, also has been arrested. And Yousef Nadarkhani, who was arrested last year on Oct. 13 in Rasht, remains in prison.
The source said the government was in crisis with so many of its citizens continuing to openly protest against it, and that this was an opportune moment to lash out against Christians.
“They see that the West is keeping quiet about Christians,” said the source. “But the Christians should mobilize about what is happening.”
Arrested Christians are regularly denied legal counsel. Often Christians are charged with other crimes, such as espionage or disrupting public order, because of their faith. The charged political climate in Iran has made it nearly impossible for Christians to find appropriate defense lawyers they can afford, a source said. Many of Iran’s human rights lawyers have either fled the country, the source said, are in prison or are otherwise unable to take up Christian cases.
Under sharia (Islamic law), apostasy is one of several “crimes” punishable by death, although Islamic court judges are not required to hand down such a sentence. No converts to Christianity have been convicted of apostasy since international pressure forced officials to drop the death sentence of Christian convert Mehdi Dibaj in 1994.
In the years following the convert’s release, however, Dibaj and four other Protestant pastors, including converts and those working with them, have been murdered. The murderers of the Christians have never been brought to justice, and government officials are suspected of playing a role in the killings.
Governmental and non-governmental agencies say that Christian converts are regularly placed under surveillance, arrested, imprisoned without due process and tortured. Muslim-born Iranians who have embraced Christianity are legally prohibited from practicing their newfound faith.