Family of Christian convert seriously ill in prison repeat plea for release

Nasim Naghash Zargaran lies on a bed in an undisclosed location while on hunger strikeFacebook/Free Maryam Naghash-Zargaran-Nasim

The family of a Christian prisoner in Iran are appealing for her to be released permanently after she was allowed home on temporary leave when she became seriously ill due to her hunger strike and other illnesses.

Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a Christian convert who has been imprisoned since 2013, was given five-day leave earlier this week from Tehran's notoriously-harsh Evin Prison, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. 

"We are happy they gave her furlough, but that's not why my daughter went on a hunger strike. We want her to be free," said Zargaran's mother, Zahra Pour-Nouhi Langroudi. "Maryam has served a third of her sentence and by law she qualifies for conditional release. We don't know why she was sentenced to four years in prison in the first place."

She started her latest recent hunger at the end of May.

Her mother added: "Maryam was sentenced to four years in prison on two charges, but they had no evidence to support either one. They accused her of preaching Christianity in Babolsar with 20 other women, but no one was in court to prove that he or she had been converted to Christianity by Maryam.

Iranian Christian Convert Maryam Naghash Zargaran, or Nasim, in prison for practising her Christian faith in Iran.Saeed Abedini/Facebook

She described how during the trial the judge joked with his staff and said: "What should I do, Haji? How many years do you think I should give her? Is five years good?"

Haji said she was too young and the judge decided on four years.

Her mother said she will be getting medical treatment for several health problems.

"Maryam is suffering from heart, ear, and spinal disc ailments, and neck and hand arthritis. She had heart disease before she was sent to prison and underwent an operation for it last year. The doctors had told her that she must absolutely avoid stressful situations, but the other problems with her ear, back and arthritis are the result of her imprisonment."

Zargaran, a children's music teacher, was regularly questioned about her Christian missionary activities before her arrest in November 2012 and, along with Pastor Saeed Abedini, accused of seeking property in northern Iran for an orphanage. He was also imprisoned but released last January after a prisoner swap with the US.

According to a recent Facebook post by Pastor Saeed Abedini, Zargaran's sister Naeemeh met with Nasim in prison just before she was given temporary leave, and hardly recognised her because she had lost so much weight and much of her hair. 

Two other prisoners had to hold her up as she could not walk on her own and was unable to even remember conversations for more than five minutes. The whites of her eyes had turned yellow and her blood pressure was very low.