Iran: two Christians among eleven prisoners of conscience released from jail  19/09/2013

Iranian Christians Maryam Jalili and Mitra Rahmati were released from Evin Prison yesterday, six weeks before their two and half year sentences were due to be completed. The women were amongst eleven prisoners of conscience to be released; others included prominent human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh and the reformist politician, Mohsen Aminzadeh.

Maryam and Mitra, both converts from Islam, were arrested on Christmas Eve in 2009, along with 13 others, after a raid by government officials on a house church in Pakdasht, south-east of Tehran. While most of the others were released shortly after being arrested, the two women were detained until 17 March 2010, when they were released temporarily. They were re-arrested in April 2011 and imprisoned after being convicted of ‘membership of an illegal group'.

Although the Iranian government has not given an explanation for the release of the eleven prisoners, it comes as President Hassan Rouhani prepares to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where there is speculation he may hold talks with President Obama.

During the presidential campaign, President Rouhani, viewed as a moderate and a pragmatist, promised to uphold the rights of women and religious minorities and to release political prisoners. The President also pledged to set up a ‘civil rights charter', which would ensure equality without discrimination based on race, religion, or gender.

An investigation by the Guardian newspaper uncovered close to 800 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Iran, including journalists, lawyers, human rights activists, feminists, Christian priests, Sunni clerics and Baha'i leaders.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, “CSW welcomes the release of Maryam Jaiili and Mitra Rahmati, Nasrin Sotoudeh and the other prisoners. While this positive step by the Iranian government is to be commended, it is by no means sufficient given the vast number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. CSW continues to call for the unconditional release of all of these prisoners, including Farshid Fathi, Behnam Irani, Saeed Abedini, Shahin Lahouti, the seven Baha'i leaders, and others who belong to religious minorities and have been unjustly detained”

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Notes to Editors:

1. CSW's Operation 18 Campaign calls on President Rouhani to uphold his campaign promises and release Shahin Lahouti, who is currently imprisoned on false political charges.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a human rights organisation which specialises in religious freedom, works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs and promotes religious liberty for all.

For more information, please call 0845 456 5464, email admin@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk