By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iran has released two devoted Christians from one of Tehran's most notorious prisons amid mounting pressure on the country's recently elected president to make good on his promises to respect minority rights, rights activists said.
Christians Maryam Jalili and Mitra Rahmati were released from Evin Prison Wednesday, September 18, six weeks before their two and half year sentences were due to be completed, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
"The women were among eleven prisoners of conscience to be released; others included prominent human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh and the reformist politician, Mohsen Aminzadeh," CSW told BosNewsLife.
Maryam and Mitra, both converts from Islam, were detained on Christmas Eve in 2009, along with 13 others, after a raid by government forces on a house church in Pakdasht, south-east of Tehran, Christians said.
"While most of the others were released shortly after being arrested, the two women were detained until March 17, 2010, when they were released temporarily. They were re-arrested in April 2011 and imprisoned after being convicted of ‘membership of an illegal group’," added CSW, which has closely followed the case.
Although the Iranian government has not given an explanation for the release of the eleven prisoners, it comes as President Hassan Rouhani prepares to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York amid expectations that he may hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama.
During the presidential campaign, President Rouhani, viewed as a moderate and a pragmatist, promised to respect the rights of women and religious minorities, including Christians, and to release political prisoners.
He also pledged to set up a ‘civil rights charter’, which would ensure equality without discrimination based on race, religion, or gender, observers said.
Some 800 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Iran, including journalists, lawyers, human rights activists, feminists, Christian priests, Sunni clerics and Baha’i leaders are believed to remain behind bars.
CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group "welcomes the release of Maryam Jaiili and Mitra Rahmati, Nasrin Sotoudeh and the other prisoners" but that it expects more changes.
"While this positive step by the Iranian government is to be commended, it is by no means sufficient given the vast number of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience," he said.
He added that his group has urged Iran to ensure the "unconditional release of all of these prisoners, including Farshid Fathi, Benham Irani, Saeed Abedini, Shahin Lahooti, seven Baha’i leaders, and others who belong to religious minorities and have been unjustly detained.”
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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