An Iranian convert to Christianity imprisoned since August has reportedly fallen seriously ill after going on a hunger strike.
Amin Afshar Naderi went on hunger strike with his fellow detainee Hadi Asgari, who is also said to have suffered recent ill health and been refused medical treatment.
They are the two remaining detainees from an initial group of five Christians arrested while picnicking in the Alborz Mountains north-east of Tehran last summer.
The other three – Amir Saman Dashti, Ramil Bet-Tamraz and Mohammad Dehnavi – were released late last year, after posting bail equivalent to $US33,000 each. Advocacy organisation Middle East Concern reported that Mr Naderi and Mr Asgari were unable to raise sufficient funds.
No charges have been brought against the five men, despite months of interrogation and imprisonment. Middle East Concern said their arrests were likely to be a result either of their Christian faith or their connection to Victor Bet-Tamraz, Ramil’s father.
Victor Bet-Tamraz led the Tehran Pentecostal Assyrian Church before it was shut down by Iran’s Ministry of Interior in March, 2009. He and Naderi were arrested alongside another convert on Boxing Day, 2014. All three were charged with conducting illegal evangelism and kept mostly in solitary confinement in Evin prison, before being released on bail in February and March, 2015. Victor Bet-Tamraz is still expecting a summons to court.
Mr Naderi and Mr Asgari are not the first Christians to go on hunger strike in an Iranian prison. Last year, World Watch Monitor reported on the case of Maryam Naghash Zargaran, an Iranian Christian woman who has spent more than three years in prison and last year had her sentence extended by six weeks to make up for the time she has spent outside prison on medical leave.
Ms Zargaran had previously undertaken two hunger strikes to protest against being denied access to the medical treatment she requires for long-standing health issues. She was eventually allowed to temporarily leave prison to receive treatment, but each time forced to return before it could be completed.
Amnesty International referenced her case when it accused Iran of “cruel” denial of medical care in its prisons.
Ms Zargaran, a convert from Islam, was originally arrested in January 2013, in connection with her work at an orphanage alongside Saeed Abedini, who was also imprisoned, but eventually released last year.
Ebrahim Firouzi also went on a hunger strike to protest against the conditions he faced in prison.