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Iranian Christian rights activist wins German prize

Stephanus Foundation for Persecuted Christians recognizes Mary Fatima Mohammadi for campaigning despite state oppression

Mary Fatima Mohammadi, an Iranian Christian and civil rights activists was awarded the Stephanus Prize 2023 by Germany-based Stephanus Foundation for Persecuted Christians

Mary Fatima Mohammadi, an Iranian Christian and civil rights activists was awarded the Stephanus Prize 2023 by Germany-based Stephanus Foundation for Persecuted Christians. (Photo: Article 18)

Published: April 25, 2023 10:18 AM GMT

Updated: April 25, 2023 10:22 AM GMT

A German foundation that supports persecuted Christians honored an Iranian Christian civil rights activist with a prestigious prize for her brave and relentless campaign for human rights despite state oppression.

The Stephanus Foundation for Persecuted Christians conferred the Stephanus Prize 2023 on Mary Fatima Mohammadi for her "outstanding courage" and "extraordinary selflessness" at a ceremony in Bonn on April 21, said a press release from the group.

“The 24-year-old has not only claimed the right to change one’s faith for herself in Iran, where turning away from Islam is considered a crime. She has also compiled and published information on the totalitarian dictatorship's persecution of dissidents, including the inhumane treatment of inmates in Qarchak and Fashafoye prisons,” the release said.

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Mohammadi was arrested several times and imprisoned twice for a period of time, most recently in 2020, when she spent three months in jail.

The US government campaigned for her in public speeches and interviews in 2020. Christians rights group, International Christian Concern, termed her “the bravest woman in Iran.”

Michael Brand, human rights policy spokesman for a parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, described her faith and human rights as "incredible" and "heroic" and what she suffered, including imprisonment, torture, and ill-treatment, as "martyrdom."

"She researched the religions and worldviews of other peoples"

Brand campaigned for her release from prison.

“But no one could break this courageous, deeply rooted young woman. The example spread like wildfire,” Brand said.

Her case caused a sensation around the world and made global headlines.

Mohammadi confessed that at the age of 17, she researched the religions and worldviews of other peoples and since then has considered Jesus Christ the most outstanding personality in world history.

It was difficult in Iran to get hold of a Bible in Persian because possession of it is forbidden. As she read it, she asked herself whether she could be as courageous as the deacon of the early Christian community, Stephen.

The award she received is named after Stephen, the first martyr of the Church.

Mohammadi said the award encourages her to continue to stand up for human rights and the oppressed.

"I dedicate the Stephanus Prize to all unknown persecuted women who continue to fight for their cause without receiving any support," she said.

"Pioneers of freedom and justice consciously take great personal risks"

She encouraged all those who stand up for the persecuted to appeal to those in power in the dictatorships and to get their democratic governments involved, for example, to demand the release of prisoners for political or religious reasons.

"They definitely learn about this support in detention," she emphasized.

During the ceremony, the foundation’s chairwoman Michaela Koller reminded that the world should not forget the heroism of the rebellious women in Iran and of such civil rights activists as Mohammadi.

The freedom that citizens enjoy in constitutional states was once won at the expense of victims, she said.

“Pioneers of freedom and justice consciously take great personal risks. For the sake of a better future, they should be supported by the people who live in democracies,” Koller added.

After the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 by an Iranian anti-aircraft missile, which those responsible denied for three days, Mohammadi demonstrated with thousands of others on January 12, 2020, against the Iranian regime.

Security forces attacked, arrested, abused, and sexually humiliated her in Tehran's Azadi Square. She was held in the notorious dungeons.

She was first arrested at a house church meeting after converting from Islam to Christianity at the age of 19 and was jailed in the notorious Evin Prison from November 2017 to May 2018.

She was released on bail on Feb. 27, 2020 — but she wasn't out of danger at that time. She was accused of "disruption of public order" and was threatened with a long prison sentence. On Feb. 21, 2022, she managed to leave Iran.


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