Attacked, jailed, sentenced to flogging: Christian woman reveals her life in Iran

Attacked, jailed, sentenced to flogging: Christian woman reveals her life in Iran

A young Christian woman sentenced to flogging in Iran said she will not renounce her faith even if it allowed her to avoid the punishment, highlighting Iran’s mistreatment of religious minorities, in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya English.

Mary Mohammadi, 21, who was condemned in April to 10 lashes and three months in prison, said disavowing Christianity is not an option in the face of persecution.

“Jesus did not deny the truth to save his life. He is an example for all Christians, and we must learn endurance from him,” said Mohammadi in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

“If I renounce Jesus, what is my security worth anymore?” she said, adding that she will not appeal her sentence, which the government suspended for one year during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Saint Sarkis Armenian Cathedral, next to a building bearing a drawing of the late founder of the Islamic Republic Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran on January 1, 2020. (AFP)The Saint Sarkis Armenian Cathedral, next to a building bearing a drawing of the late founder of the Islamic Republic Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran on January 1, 2020. (AFP)

Mohammadi, who has previously been imprisoned for her faith, said the Islamic Republic of Iran is denying her basic human rights including the right to choose her religion and clothing, and the right to education.

“The Islamic Republic is in total conflict with human rights and has demolished any hopes for human development in this country,” Mohammadi said.

Imprisoned for her faith

Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence first seized and arrested Mohammadi two years ago for practicing and sharing her Christian faith.

Mohammadi was sentenced to six months in Evin prison. US President Donald Trump mentioned Mohammadi’s case during a speech earlier this year at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, saying she was imprisoned in Iran for “sharing the gospel.”

An Iranian inmate peers from behind a wall as a guard walks by at Evin jail, north of Tehran on June 13, 2006. (File photo: AFP)An Iranian inmate peers from behind a wall as a guard walks by at Evin jail, north of Tehran on June 13, 2006. (File photo: AFP)

Mohammadi said that since Shia Islam is the “major base of this regime,” all citizens of other religions are repressed – in particular Persian-speaking Christians like herself and members of the Baha’i faith.

“The pressure and harassment of religious minorities comes from the regime’s perspective that all other religions are in contest with them and would weaken their foundation should they be given the chance to grow,” she said.

After serving her first six-month sentence, Mohammadi was released – only to be attacked shortly thereafter while riding a bus in the capital city of Tehran.

Attacked over a headscarf

Mohammadi said she was sitting on a public bus “on one of the hottest days of summer” in 2019 when her headscarf slipped down. A fellow passenger noticed.

“Suddenly, I was faced with a screaming woman in chador who was shouting at me to put my scarf back on,” Mohammadi said, adding that she ignored the woman’s repeated calls.

“Eventually she attacked me and made my face bleed, to the point that my blood was under her nails,” said Mohammadi.

Iranian Christian Mary Mohammadi. (Twitter)Iranian Christian Mary Mohammadi. (Twitter)

When the police became involved, it was Mohammadi who was detained for several hours instead of the alleged attacker.

The woman acted violently “because she knew the regime is a hundred percent behind her,” according to Mohammadi.

Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, the government has mandated head coverings in public places for all women.

“We do not have the right to choose our clothing [in Iran]. I am a Christian – why should I have to wear a headscarf in the streets?” Mohammadi said.

Woman, wearing face masks, on a public bus in a street in Tehran on Feb. 29, 2020. (File photo: AP)Woman, wearing face masks, on a public bus in a street in Tehran on Feb. 29, 2020. (File photo: AP)

Education denied, advocacy begins

Universities in Iran have refused to accept Mohammadi as a student, a rejection she said is due to her religion and related activities that led to her initial arrest.

“From childhood, having higher education was one of my biggest dreams, but the Islamic regime has officially deprived me of this right,” she said.

Now Mohammadi funnels her passion for education into spreading knowledge about Christians in Iran. She uses her platform to advocate for fellow Christians in Iran who have been arrested, sentenced, imprisoned, and exiled for their religion – as well as to draw awareness to human rights.

“In Iran, every second of the news cycle brings about a new form of injustice,” according to Mohammadi.

Arrested in protest, accused of Trump links

In January, Mohammadi saw a headline she couldn’t ignore: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps admitted to downing a Ukrainian civilian airliner, killing all 176 passengers on board.

She joined an evening gathering on January 12 in protest of the downing in Tehran’s Azadi square. Mohammadi said police officers arrested and severely beat her.

Iranians students demonstrate following a tribute for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 in Tehran, on January 11, 2020. (Photo: AFP)Iranians students demonstrate following a tribute for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 in Tehran, on January 11, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

At the detention center, Mohammadi’s interrogators focused on her Christian faith and accusations that she was an agent for US President Donald Trump.

“Officers were constantly asking me ‘Is Trump waiting for you?’ and ‘Why is the text on your hat in English’?” said Mohammadi, who was subsequently charged with “disrupting public order by participating in an illegal rally,” according to nonprofit Christian watchdog Article 18.

An Iranian man holds a picture of a victim of the Ukrainian plane downing during a demonstration in Tehran on January 11, 2020. (File photo: AP)An Iranian man holds a picture of a victim of the Ukrainian plane downing during a demonstration in Tehran on January 11, 2020. (File photo: AP)

“When the interrogators called for me, the officers were telling the person on the other line what to say – purposefully speaking loudly so I would hear them talking about my religion and previous arrests,” she said.

Fighting for future generations

The judge at trial, who repeatedly asked Mohammadi about her Christian faith during the proceedings according to Article 18, handed down the sentence of flogging and jail time that Mohammadi now faces.

“I might still have to endure the punishment in light of my current activities,” she said.

Mohammadi said that following the path of Jesus “can come at a high cost” – one that she is prepared to pay.

“I think about the legacy we want to leave for our future generations,” she said. “I believe that if we don’t fight for humanity our lives would be meaningless and futile.”

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