After a fire ruins the facility, two Christians are surprisingly released from Iran’s renowned Evin Prison

After a fire ruins the facility, two Christians are surprisingly released from Iran's renowned Evin Prison
After a fire ruins the facility, two Christians are surprisingly released from Iran's renowned Evin Prison

Two Christians are shockingly freed from Iran’s famed Evin Prison when a fire destroys the prison.

After a fire broke out in Tehran’s Evin Prison on Oct. 15, two Christians who were imprisoned in Iran for their involvement in church leadership were liberated a few days later, but rights activists were baffled as to why.

After two months in solitary confinement, Pastor Naser Navard Goltapeh was released from Evin Prison on October 17 after receiving a pardon from Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei, according to rights activists. Fariba Dalir, who had been imprisoned in Evin Prison for 38 days after being detained in July 2021 for establishing a house church, was also freed on October 18.

After a fire ruins the facility, two Christians are surprisingly released from Iran’s renowned Evin Prison

She was also absolved, though it was unclear who had such power. Those who support religious freedom claim that both pardons were unexpected and had previously been rejected.

“We don’t know what made Khamanei do this out of the blue,” a Middle East Concern advocacy expert on Iran said. “We know that various bodies, including the U.K. government and the U.N., were advocating for [Pastor Goltapeh’s] release, and we know that Evin Prison is hosting protestors and running out of space” (MEC).

According to the MEC source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Pastor Goltapeh had repeatedly asked for an early release and departure and had been turned down. In August, Dalir asked for an early release but was turned down. Pastor Goltapeh and Dalir were both entitled to early release under Iranian law since they had both served more than one-third of their terms of imprisonment.

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According to MEC, Pastor Goltapeh was detained in June 2016 along with three other Christians at an engagement party in Karaj, a town close to Tehran. He and three other Azerbaijani men were transferred to the Evin Prison, where they were constantly questioned and detained in seclusion for two months.

They were placed under arrest in October 2016 and released on bail after being accused of “missionary operations” and “acts against national security.” The three Azerbaijani men were permitted to leave Iran a month later, but Pastor Goltapeh, an Iranian who had converted to Islam, was required to remain in order to stand trial.

Pastor Goltapeh was found guilty in May 2017 and given a 10-year prison term for “acting against national security by creating and constructing illegal house churches.” After losing his appeal, he turned himself in to Evin Prison in January 2018.

After a coronavirus outbreak at the prison, Pastor Goltapeh was subjected to abuse by the guards and denied medical attention for a painful gum infection and COVID-19. After recovering from the COVID-19 infection, the pastor underwent dental work in 2021.

Dalir, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity, was given a five-year prison sentence in November 2021 for “acting against national security by founding and heading an evangelical Christian congregation.” Dalir received his fifth denial of parole in July, according to the civil rights organization Article 18. Additionally, she had repeatedly been denied a retrial.

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After the presiding judge discovered he had made an administrative error in her case, her sentence was later reduced to two years.

Dalir and five other Christians were detained by Islamic Revolutionary Guard members in July 2021. Dalir was detained by the Guard for 38 days in solitary confinement before being moved to a women’s prison until she was released on bond in November of that same year.

In April, Dalir started carrying out her sentence. She was qualified for parole when she was released since she had served more than one-third of her sentence; nevertheless, her request for conditional release was turned down in August.

When Pastor Goltapeh, also written Gol-Tapeh, was freed from prison, he had served half of a ten-year sentence. At the time of this writing, Goltapeh was staying with family members and had no specific plans for the future.

Riot and fire

Pastor Goltapeh and Dalir were released in the wake of a riot that broke out at Evin Prison on October 15 and a subsequent fire that substantially damaged the complex, including the area where Pastor Goltapeh had previously been housed. Despite the fact that officials have not provided any explanation for the releases, Pastor Goltapeh and Dalir were released.

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In the tragedy, eight detainees perished and around 60 were hurt. Amnesty International said that several of the wounded detainees had been shot, contradicting Iranian officials’ claims that the fatalities were caused by smoke inhalation and that the government had likely underreported the number of victims overall.

According to MEC, no Christian detainees were hurt in the fire. According to Article 18, at least a dozen Christian prisoners of conscience were detained at Evin Prison when the fire started, many of whom were housed in Ward 8, which is located next to Ward 7, where the biggest damage is said to have occurred.

Authorities had to move an unknown but sizable number of detainees to other facilities since the unrest and fire had damaged enough of the facility. Christian inmates may have been moved, but as of this writing, there were no records of such moves.

The original purpose of the 1972-built Evin Prison was to house political detainees detained by SAVAK, the secret police of the Shah of Iran. After the Shah’s government was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Evin Prison gained notoriety throughout the world for housing not just political prisoners but also religious believers who were imprisoned and subjected to torture in order to destroy their resolve to uphold their beliefs.

On the 2022 World Watch List of nations where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Iran came in ninth place, according to the Christian advocacy group Open Doors USA.

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