Iran releases Christian woman from Evin Prison

Iran has released a Christian woman from Evin Prison in Tehran on Aug. 1 after being jailed for four years over the charge of "violating national security" through her involvement in underground church ministries.

(REUTERS / Morteza Nikoubazl)A female prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison June 13, 2006.

Maryam Naghash Zargaran, 39, was sentenced to four years in prison for acts related to having an "anti-security agenda to spread Christianity in Iran." Mohabat News said she was supposed to be released on July 28 but Iran delayed the schedule without giving a clear explanation.

Zargaran was questioned in January 2010 over her "house church" ministry and was arrested in January 2013 together with Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini. Mansour Borji of advocacy group Article 18 told World Watch Monitor that the Christian convert's "unjust detention despite severe health issues" shows the Iranian government's lack of respect for religious liberty.

"Part of this suppression is reflected in the increased number of arrests, but also smear campaigns against religious minorities, especially Christians," Borji added.

Zargaran, who underwent heart surgery a decade ago and needs to have medical checkups regularly, was reportedly denied medical treatment for a variety of illnesses. She launched several hunger strikes to protest her situation, prompting Iran to allow her to temporarily leave jail for the treatment but was always forced to return in the middle of the medical interventions.

Because of the time she spent outside of Evin Prison, Iran extended her sentence by six weeks.

Aside from Zargaran, there were 10 other Christians imprisoned for at least 10 years since June 2016 becasuse of their house church activities. One of them is Amin Afshar Naderi, who dropped 10 kilograms (22 lbs) after going on a hunger strike for 21 days, Morning Star News reported.

Naderi, who is also a former Muslim like Zargaran, was sentenced to 15 years in jail for "insulting the sacred" and "acting against national security," according to Middle East Concern . He was allowed to post $80,000 in bail on July 25.

Prisoners in Iran often resort to hunger strikes to shine the spotlight on their harsh sentences and the poor treatment they have to endure while in prison, human rights advocates explain. They are sometimes held without formal charges or trial and are also forced to endure long periods of isolation and interrogation.