Christian prisoners in Iran go on hunger strike to protest harsh sentences

Two Christians who are currently imprisoned in Iran went on hunger strikes to speak out against the harsh sentences given to converts who engage in house-church activities, according to advocacy group Middle East Concern. 

(REUTERS / Raheb Homavandi / Tima)Iranian Christians stand in line at a church to cast their votes during elections for the parliament and Assembly of Experts, which has the power to appoint and dismiss the supreme leader, in Tehran February 26, 2016.

Amin Afshar Naderi, a former Muslim, went on a hunger strike for 21 days in Evin Prison. He is serving a 15-year jail sentence for "insulting the sacred" and "acting against national security." The Christian convert had lost 10 kilograms (22 lbs) by the time that he was freed on $80,000 bail on July 25, Morning Star News detailed.

Naderi was arrested on Aug. 26, 2016 along with other Christians while at a picnic, Christian Solidarity Worldwide said. He had already been detained previously on Dec. 26, 2014 while attending a Christmas celebration at Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz's home in Tehran.

On June 17, Ebrahim Firoozi also declared a 10-day hunger strike as his way of speaking out against his four-year jail sentence. He was charged with "acting against national security through collusion and gatherng." While in prison, his health reportedly deteriorated and was prohibited from taking leave to visit his sick mother.

"It's one of the ways, in a way, to raise objections to the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran," MEC's Nikoo Cordman said of the hunger strikes. "Because they don't treat them well, don't care for their concerns, don't hear them out. This is the only way, in some cases."

In addition, Cordman said the hunger strikes pressure Iran into showing the international community that it upholds religious freedom. The physical danger involved in the activity can also serve as a liability for the government.

On July 20, the Center for Human Rights in Iran expressed concern over the string of arrests and jail terms served to Christian converts in Iran. The New York-based rights group noted that 11 converts have already been given long prison terms in less than two months, Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty reported.

CHRI executive director Hadi Ghaemi said Christians are being persecuted by the state despite the fact that Iran's Constitution recognizes them as an official religious minority. Christian groups also observe that despite the state-sponsored persecution, the number of converts to this faith continues to grow.