Imprisoned Iranian believer in 'urgent' health crisis
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Maryam Naghash Zargaran, an imprisoned Iranian convert to Christianity, is in "urgent need of special care."
An Iranian Christian media outlet, Mohabat News, reported March 24 that Zargaran's health condition "deteriorated last week," citing sources close to her family.
Accused of participating with pastor Saeed Abedini in a house church in connection with her work at an orphanage, Zargaran has been in the women's ward of Tehran's notorious Evin prison since 2013, according to World Watch Monitor, a news service that focuses on persecuted Christians. Abedini was imprisoned in Iran from 2012 to early 2016 when he was released as part of a reported prisoner swap in the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal.
Zargaran, single and in her late 30s, is serving a four-year sentence, which also has taken a toll on her mother, now diagnosed with what Mohabat News described as "brain illness" due to stress stemming from her frequent visits to government prosecutors to inquire about her daughter's case.
Zargaran is one of about 90 Christians who were "in prison, detained or awaiting trial because of their religious beliefs and activities" as of February 2016, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's last report, issued in April 2016. USCIRF reported that Iran's Shiite regime also had imprisoned more than 150 Sunni Muslims and at least 80 Bahai's.
Zargaran was one of four imprisoned Iranians who received attention in Amnesty International's July 2016 report "Iran: Health taken hostage: Cruel denial of medical care in Iran's prisons." Her case was detailed in a section titled "Hunger strikes and reprisals."
Zargaran engaged in two hunger strikes in mid-2016 over her medical treatment, the first spanning 11 days, the second 27 days. Each time, she received temporary medical leave for home care, which government authorities cut short of doctor recommendations, according to Amnesty International.
The human rights group reported that Zargaran recounted that "the prison doctor had harassed her and sworn at her the [first] time she was on a hunger strike and accused her of 'lying'" about it.
Amnesty International, recapping Zargaran's medical issues, stated that she "seems to suffer from several serious medical conditions. She has a heart problem known as atrial septal defect (ASD) for which she underwent surgery several years prior to her arrest. The problem has since required ongoing monitoring and follow-up with a cardiologist but it appears that, since her imprisonment in 2013, she has not had regular access to such care.
"Over the past year, she has also experienced severe numbness in her hands and feet, and chronic pain in her joints. Amnesty International understands that it took several months and multiple rounds of visits to the prison clinic before she was finally examined by a specialist. The specialist provided an initial diagnosis of a herniated disc and arthritis, and advised that she must start receiving physiotherapy immediately. The Office of the Prosecutor, however, refused to comply with the opinion of the specialist doctor and to transfer her to a medical facility outside prison. Human rights groups have reported that [Zargaran] also suffers from several additional health problems, including acute earache, severe anaemia, persistent dizziness, diabetes and dyslipidaemia (abnormal amount of lipids in the blood), all of which seem to have worsened during her imprisonment."
The section of the Amnesty International report focusing on hunger strikes noted, "Political prisoners suffering from deteriorating health have often felt that they had no choice but to go on a hunger strike to compel the authorities to provide them with medical care. The authorities have usually responded with initial indifference followed by half-hearted promises. Sometimes they have transferred the hunger striker to a hospital or granted them short-term medical leave, but have then forced them to interrupt their treatment after a brief period and return to prison against medical advice."
According to Mohabat News, Zargaran's sentence has been extended by 45 days to match the time she was away from prison for temporary medical leave.
Describing the circumstances facing Christians like Zargaran in Iran, analyst Henriette Kats of the Open Doors advocacy organization for persecuted Christians told World Watch Monitor: "Of all different types of Christianity in Iran, it is especially those with a Muslim background who are suffering for their faith. However, Persian-speaking Protestant Christians are facing hardships as religious minorities as well, especially when they are active in spreading their faith.... Hate speech against them by imams, or in multimedia material published by the government, increased during the past year."
Kats said the Iranian regime has "intensified its campaign to remove Farsi-speaking [Persian-speaking] Christians from the country. During past years, many churches have been shut down, confiscated or forced to cancel their church services in Farsi. Their leaders were also often arrested. Congregations who still gather in churches are not allowed to accept new members with a Muslim background and their current members are aging. Severe surveillance on house churches leads to increasing fear among those attending. Evangelism, Bible training and the publishing and importing of Bibles in Farsi are all illegal.
"Also non-Protestant Christians, such as Assyrian and Armenians, face disadvantages because of their faith, such as harassment and discrimination in their workplace, both by state and private-sector employers," Kats said.
A call for postcards and letters to Zargaran is part of a Facebook page devoted to her plight: "Free Maryam Naghash Zargaran Nasim" (her full Iranian name).
"Your words and letters to Maryam will not be wasted if you write," the Facebook page states. "The postcards and letters you write will make a big difference to Maryam, letting her know that she has not been forgotten."
Correspondence should be addressed to:
Maryam Naghash-Zargaran - Nasim
Islamic Republic of Iran
"Please continue to pray for Maryam, and for those who have the power release her," the Facebook page states.