Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has welcomed the release of two Christians from an Iranian prison. Pastor Amin Khaki and Rokhsare Ghanbari were both set free as part of the Iranian government's strategy to reduce COVID-19 infection rates among the inmate population.
Pastor Amin was arrested in 2017 and was later charged with "spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”. In March 2019, he was sentenced to 14 months in prison. Rokhsare Ghanbari (Mahrokh) was arrested by agents from the Ministry of Intelligence in July 2019, and faced similar charges, being sentenced to a year behind bars back in July 2019. CSW believes Ghanbari was targeted simply because she attended a house church. Ghanbari's case hit the headlines in August of last year when US Vice President Mike Pence took to Twitter to advocate on her behalf, writing: "I am appalled to hear reports that Iran’s despotic rulers have punished yet another Christian woman for exercising her freedom to worship."
In response to the announcement, CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We welcome the release of these two innocent Christians, who were imprisoned simply for adopting a faith of their choice. Their right to do so is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Iran is party. We call upon the Iranian government to end the criminalisation of conversion, and to immediately release all prisoners of thought, conscience, religion and belief during this public health emergency.”
Another Iranian Christian, Fatemeh Bakhteri, has had her temporary release extended until 18 April after being jailed last August for “spreading propaganda against the regime".
Mervyn Thomas added: “CSW also welcomes the extension of the temporary release of Fatemeh Bakhteri. However we reiterate that she should never have been imprisoned in the first place. We urge the Iranian government to grant Ms Bakhteri permanent release and to allow her to observe her religious belief without further harassment or targeting.”