A persecuted Iranian Christian activist has said that she believes that state authorities are holding 15 followers in detention as part of an extensive nation-wide crackdown on religious minorities.
Mary Mohammadi, a Christian convert, was recently handed a suspended three-month sentence for allegedly participating in a demonstration against the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner earlier this year. She told Voice of America Persian that her domestic contacts had revealed that at least 15 Christians remain in detention in Iran’s prisons as of 11th June, despite thousands of inmates being issued early release as a result of coronavirus.
After receiving her sentence of three months plus one day in prison and ten lashes, Mohammadi said:
"There was no evidence against me, so I ought to have been acquitted, but instead I was sentenced not only to imprisonment, but also flogging.
"And it should be mentioned that even before the verdict was handed down, I and my family were forced to endure all kinds of torture, none of which was sanctioned by law, and which ought to be considered crimes in themselves. So even if I would have been acquitted, it wouldn’t have been a real acquittal!"
In February, US President Donald Trump brought global attention to Mohammadi's case after speaking of her plight at the National Prayer Breakfast, saying: “Mary was seized and imprisoned in Iran because she converted to Christianity and shared the Gospel with others."
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later added that he was "deeply concerned" by the case, noting that the United States will "continue to do our level best to hold [the Iranians] accountable for this terrible repression of someone who simply wanted to exercise her own conscience and her desire to be a Christian."
Iran's penal code stipulates that it is illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. The distribution of Christian literature for the purpose of evangelism is also prohibited.
According to Open Doors, less than 1 per cent of the country's population are followers of Jesus.
In a factsheet on the Middle Eastern nation, the charity notes: "Christianity is seen as a Western influence and a threat, and all ethnic Persians are seen as Muslims. An ethnic Persian who leaves Islam can face the death penalty or imprisonment for ‘crimes against national security’ and it’s illegal to produce Christian literature or hold services in Farsi. Much of the persecution of Christians comes from the Iranian government."
Open Doors ranks Iran as 9th on its 'World Watch List' - a collection of countries in which Christians are routinely persecuted for their faith.