Iran releases ailing Christian convert Maryam Zargaran after four years in prison

(Wikimedia Commons/Ehsan Iran)Evin House of Detention, in northwestern Tehran, Iran.

The Iranian government has released ailing Christian convert Maryam Naghash Zargaran from Tehran's Evin prison, where she has been jailed for four years.

According to World Watch Monitor, Zargaran was due to be released on July 28, but it was delayed until Aug. 1 without any explanation.

Zargaran, a convert from Islam, was arrested alongside Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini in January 2013 in connection with their work at an orphanage. She was first questioned by the authorities in 2010 for her work with underground churches.

During her time in prison, she was denied proper medical treatment for her ongoing medical problems and was said to be near death a year ago.

Zargaran, also known as "Nasim," suffers from congenital heart condition said to be Atrial Septal Defect, which can reduce the blood's oxygen levels. She has also been diagnosed with lumbar disc disease, arthritis and osteoporosis. The stressful prison conditions have reportedly exacerbated her congenital heart condition and have left her suffering with depression.

She underwent two hunger strikes in 2016 in protest of her imprisonment and lack of medical care, but the authorities only allowed her to receive temporary and limited medical treatment.

Mohabat News reported that the prison guards and the judiciary authorities hesitated to send her to a hospital or give her suitable medical care when her health status took a turn for the worse due to the hunger strikes.

Zargaran finished her prison term on June 5, 2017, but her release date was postponed to Aug. 1 because she has spent a few days on medical leave.

Her case has been highlighted by Amnesty International when it accused Iran of "cruel" denial of medical care in its prisons.

Mansour Borji, from advocacy group Article 18, said that her "unjust detention despite severe health issues is clear evidence of Iran's lack of respect for religious freedom."

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

Abedini, who was freed in January 2016, following pressure from the U.S. government, had advocated for Zargaran's freedom and access to medical care. He told Baptist Press that it was his ministry that has led to Zargaran's Christian conversion. "Nasim is free. Hallelujah," the pastor posted on Facebook on Aug. 1.

In recent months, a dozen Christians — mostly converts from Muslim backgrounds — have received lengthy prison sentences of 10 years or more. The lengthy sentences prompted two other imprisoned Christians to undertake hunger strikes of their own, including Amin Afshar Naderi, who was released on bail after going three weeks without food.

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