By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– A Christian woman who was detained as part of Iran’s crackdown on devoted Christian converts has been released after more than nine months imprisonment, but concerns remain over other jailed believers, BosNewsLife learned Saturday, December 31.
Shahla Rahmati, the director of “a successful electronics company”, was freed December 20 following 287 days behind bars in mainly Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, confirmed Elam Ministries, a mission group founded by Iranian church leaders.
Iranian Christians said she was sentenced to at least two and a half years imprisonment on charges such as “membership of an illegal group”, in reference to her Christian activities.
An appeal court apparently overturned her conviction, Christians said, but it was not immediately clear when that ruling was made. Rights groups and lawyers have complained that Iran’s judiciary is often clouded in secrecy.
In a statement, released by Elam Ministries, her family expressed concerns about her health saying “Shahla needs immediate medical attention as her blood pressure is still dangerously low” following alleged prison mistreatment.
Since her detention on March 9 last year she was reportedly kept in solitary confinement for five months. She was then moved to “an overcrowded cell which she shared with about 80 hardened criminals and drug addicts”, stressed Elam Ministries. “Here her health deteriorated [as] her blood pressure dropped to
very low levels.”
Her family said they “thank all Christians for their faithful intercession for her release” but concerns remained over two other Christian women who were detained with Shahla Rahmati.
Maryam Jalili and Mitra Zahmati, were transferred to the women’s section of the Evin prison three months ago, explained Mohabat News, a news agency of Iranian Christians and activists.
“It has been reported that Ms. Zahmati was also sentenced to two and a half years in prison [like Rahmati] while Ms. Jalili remains in custody with her fate unknown,” it said.
Elsewhere in the country Iranian Christians, including former Muslims, were also detained this Christmas season, including Farshid Fathi-Malayeri, “an enthusiastic church leader”, Elam Ministries said. The father of two was reportedly arrested December 26, though more details were not immediately available.
Additionally, concerns remain over a senior evangelical pastor and his wife who were detained in southern Iran after security forces raided their Assemblies of God-affiliated church, detaining everyone in the building, including children attending Sunday School, a friend of the couple told BosNewsLife earlier.
“Pastor Farhad Sabokrouh and his wife Shahnaz were among those detained in the southern town of Ahwaz Friday morning, [December 23] while they were having Christmas celebrations”, explained their friend, Firouz Khandjani.
He said security forces pushed dozens of worshipers, including children, into two buses and brought them to a local police station. Most were eventually released, “but the pastor and his wife remain in jail,” Khandjani said.
Mohabat News said at least four Christians remain detained of the church. Among others behind bars is Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, whose case received international media attention, after he was sentenced to death for refusing to abandon his faith in Christ and return to Islam.
A lawyer and other observers close to the case said they learned from the court that judges were ordered to “do nothing” for one year in hope he would eventually deny his faith in Christ.
However, “It has become clear that Iran’s government may want to execute him earlier,” Khandjani stressed. “Saying he will be held one year more does not necessarily mean an earlier execution isn’t possible.”
Iranian officials have denied wrongdoing, saying they defend “Islamic values”. Christians linked the reported crackdown to concerns among Iran’s government about the spread of Christianity in the strict Islamic nation.
There are at least 100,000 devoted Christians in Iran, many of them former Muslims, according to conservative estimates, while some church groups estimate that number to be several times higher.
Officially 98 percent of Iran’s roughly 78 million people are Muslims, said the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).