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Iran: Christian convert strip-searched, interrogated, held in ‘one of the worst and most unsanitary prisons in Iran’

The Iranian government targets converts to Christianity because it considers them to be apostates and thus threats to the foundation of the state. 

The U.S. State Department has classified Iran as a “country of particular concern” for “having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

For previous coverage of Iran, see here.

“‘I felt very sick every time the jailer searched our bodies with her hands,’” Article 18, March 8, 2023:

Shadi Noveiri was strip-searched multiple times during her 40 days in detention, an experience she describes as “absolutely humiliating and I believe illegal”.

The Christian convert, who turned 25 during her incarceration, was subjected to the search each time she was taken from the Ministry of Intelligence detention centre in Rasht, where she was interrogated, back to Lakan Prison, which she calls “one of the worst and most unsanitary prisons in Iran”.

“The other prisoners told me: ‘When they want to punish a prisoner, or send them into exile, they send them to Lakan Prison.’”

Shadi says the strip-search was used as a form of emotional and psychological torture.

“We had to get naked and the female jailer would search our bodies with her hands,” she explains. “Every time, I felt very sick.

“Once I became angry and said to her: ‘How many times do you need to do this inspection?’ Then I cried out loud. I cried so hard and with all my heart, and the officer got upset and started crying with me.

“‘I’m here because of my faith, and because I’m a Christian!’ I said. ‘I didn’t do anything wrong! I didn’t commit any crime to deserve that you would behave like this!’ The officer was very troubled by my words.”

Shadi was arrested alongside her friend, Maryam, in November 2015. The next day, they were charged with “acting against the country’s security through membership of a branch of the Christian community”.

In practice, this vaguely-worded charge meant that Shadi and Maryam were part of a house-church – the only place where Christian converts can gather together to worship in Iran, as they are no longer permitted to enter the churches of Iran’s Assyrian and Armenian Christian minorities.

But even these house-churches are outlawed and considered anti-state operations, as can be clearly seen in the types of questions Shadi was asked by her interrogators:

“What is the name of your pastor and what are his activities? What are your activities at church? Which organisations are you connected to? Do you get paid? Confess and write down the names of the Christians you know, and their activities in the church.”

Shadi and Maryam were eventually sentenced to three months in prison for their “crime”, under Article 499 of the penal code, relating to membership of groups that “aim to disrupt the security of the country”.

But by this time Shadi had already fled the country.

“After my release, I felt that the intelligence agents were always following me and that I was under surveillance,” she says. “In front of our apartment, a car constantly stood guard, controlling my coming and going. I was under their watch wherever I went.

“My family were happy about my release from prison, but alongside this happiness, they were also worried. My father was very upset when he learned about my decision to leave Iran, but he supported me and said: ‘If that is the best decision for you, then go.’ He supported me as much as he could.”

Shadi left Iran less than a month after her release from prison, and claimed asylum in Turkey. Two months later, her father died….

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