IRAN: Zaman Fadaie, a Christian, released after nearly five years in prison

Article 18 (09.02.2023) – – An Iranian convert jailed for “acting against national security by organising house-churches and promoting ‘Zionist’ Christianity” has been “pardoned” after nearly five years in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Zaman Fadaie, who is known as Saheb, was unexpectedly released in the small hours of this morning. He then made his way home to Rasht – four hours’ drive north of Tehran – where he surprised his wife, Marjan, and their 15-year-old daughter Marta.

Saheb had been in prison since July 2018, having initially been sentenced, alongside three other members of the “Church of Iran”, to 10 years in prison, followed by two years’ exile.

In 2020, Saheb’s prison sentence was reduced to six years, but until today he still faced exile upon his release.

Now, however, that Saheb has been “pardoned”, he will no longer have to journey into exile.

It is also important to note that Saheb’s pardon constitutes an “unconditional release”. On several occasions during his imprisonment, Saheb was offered “conditional release”, contingent upon him admitting he had acted wrongly, and committing to refrain from doing so in the future. But Saheb refused to accept any limitation upon his future freedom to worship.

In 2021, Saheb was one of three imprisoned converts to write an open letter, querying where they may worship upon their release, free from fear of re-arrest and imprisonment.

This letter inspired the ongoing #Place2Worship campaign, which seeks an official place of worship for Christian converts and other Persian-speaking Christians.

That converts to Christianity are unrecognised was highlighted when, in 2020, Saheb and another convert were flogged as part of a separate conviction for drinking wine as part of Communion. (It is illegal for Muslims to drink alcohol in Iran, but there are exemptions for recognised religious minorities, including Assyrian and Armenian Christians. Converts, however, are not recognised as Christian.)

Saheb is the third of the four men initially sentenced to 10 years in prison to be released, after Youhan Omidi and Yasser Mossayebzadeh.

Now, only Yousef Nadarkhani, the most well-known of the quartet, remains in prison, despite the UN ruling in 2021 that his detention was “arbitrary”.

Saheb’s “pardoning” was part of a wider pardoning of prisoners ahead of the 44th anniversary of the Islamic Republic.

Each year, the Islamic Republic announces a wave of pardons to coincide with particular events – for example in October last year, when Christian converts Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh and Fariba Dalir were pardoned on the occasion of Muhammad’s birth.

Photo: Saheb Fadaie, with his wife Marjan and daughter Marta. Article 18

Further reading about FORB in Iran on HRWF website