By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
TEHRAN (Worthy News) – Iranian authorities have freed two Christian converts from one of Iran’s most notorious prisons after a fire there killed eight inmates and injured dozens of others, well-informed Christians told Worthy News Wednesday.
Fariba Dalir, 53, was pardoned and freed Tuesday from Tehran’s Evin Prison after Pastor Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, 61, was released from the same jail the previous day.
Their release followed what friends called a “hellish night” of fire and gunfire at the Evin Prison amid mounting unrest against the Islamic leadership in the country.
Dalir reportedly spent more than 200 days in detention, including over a month in solitary confinement after her initial arrest in July last year. She had been in Evin since Easter Saturday, advocacy activists said.
Dalit was detained with five other Christians for Christian activities by agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in July 2021, said the advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
Following a hearing in November 2021, Dalir was sentenced to five years in prison, which was reduced to two years after the judge acknowledged a mistake, trial observers added.
In August, she applied for conditional release or temporary leave, but her request was rejected till her unexpected release Tuesday.
Christians with close knowledge of the situation said, “Fariba, her husband Soroush, and daughter Arezoo, who is in her early twenties, are overjoyed at their reunion.”
Yet the family also recognized “the increasingly difficult and dangerous predicament of those who remain in prison” amid the reported harsh treatment of Christian inmates.
Pastor Gol-Tapeh, freed Monday, was in Evin Prison since January 2018, serving a 10-year sentence for “acting against national security” by belonging to a house church.
During his nearly 2,000 days behind bars, the pastor filed requests for a retrial or parole and wrote open letters wondering how membership of a house church could be considered an “action against national security.”
But these petitions, and even an emotional plea last year from his elderly mother for her son’s release, “all fell on deaf ears,” his supporters said.
Yet, 440 days after his mother’s video message for his freedom, the pastor was told he had been “pardoned,” Christians explained.
His release came just two days after chaotic scenes in the Evin Prison as the fire spread through Ward 7, killing and injuring several prisoners.
Gunfire was also heard, while projectiles leading to explosions were hurled into the prison from outside, according to Christians with close knowledge of the situation.
None of the roughly dozen Christian prisoners of conscience were hurt, sources said. But one family member told the advocacy group Article18: “It was a hellish night for us. We were completely in the dark about what was happening.”
The family member added: “Then, we were finally able to speak [to our loved one]. We heard the sound of shooting, and then the phone was disconnected. We wept until the morning.”
The male Christian prisoners – some of whom are in advanced years, including a 64-year-old with Parkinson’s disease – “were also forced into desperate action to prevent the fire from spreading to their ward,” Article18 said.
It was not immediately clear whether there was any direct link between the fire and the release of the two Christians. However, the pastor reportedly suffered several health issues during his long imprisonment.
Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, said: “While we celebrate the recent release of Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh and Fariba Dalir, we remain deeply concerned for the health and security of all who stay in Evin Prison, including at least 10 Christian prisoners of conscience.
Article18 said it knows “of at least 10 Christian prisoners of conscience still in Evin” and a “further eight in other prisons across the country, or exile.”
The actual figure was likely higher, as not all cases are publicly reported. In statements to Worthy News, Christians urged prayers for the believers who were released and those who remain in jail, as well as for their families.
They also pray for “a new dawn in Iran,” a strict Islamic nation where minority Christians, including former Muslims, face persecution, Christians said.
The appeal also comes with the nation’s deadliest anti-government protests in years.
Demonstrations began September 16 after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained by Iran’s religious police for wearing a hijab headscarf in “an improper fashion.”
Campaigners and family members said she was beaten and tortured to death, a charge denied by law enforcement authorities.
Police claim the young woman died of “natural causes.” Her death and arrest came amid what activists view as a government clampdown on women’s rights.
It is reported that more than 150 people were killed by security forces during protests since Amini’s death, prompting international outrage.
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