Iranian Christians face long prison sentences

July 6, 2017

Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz. Source: Middle East Concern

Iranian Christians request prayer for Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, Amin Afshar Naderi and Hadi Asgari, who face long prison sentences, Middle East Concern reports.

In a separate hearing, four other Christians were sentenced to jail in Iran, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Lengthy sentences

Church Central reported last month about the trial of Pastor Victor, Amin and Hadi.

Following a hearing on June 11, 2017, Judge Ahmadpour issued his verdict on July 3 and 4. Pastor Victor was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, Amin to 15 years (possibly including time already served) and Hadi to 10 years and a two-year travel ban.

The judge also raised the amount of bail for Amin and Hadi to 200 million Tomans (approximately $60,000) each.

The men were not present at court when the sentences were read out, but their lawyer was present. Their lawyer will appeal against the court's decision during the week ending July 7, Middle East Concern says.

Original arrests

Pastor Victor and Amin were among several Christians arrested on December 26, 2014, at a Christmas celebration at Pastor Victor's home in Tehran. Pastor Victor, who is of Assyrian background, was verbally charged with “conducting evangelism,” “illegal house church activities” and “Bible printing and distribution” among other charges. He was released on bail on March 1, 2015.

Amin, a convert from Islam, was charged with “acting against national security” and “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy). Hadi, also a convert, was not present at the Christmas celebration but was arrested in August 2016 at a picnic in Frustum and charged with “acting against national” and “organizing and creating house churches.”

Awaiting hearing

Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Pastor Victor's son, who was also arrested in August 2016 in Firuzkuh, is awaiting a hearing. Ramiel was charged with “acting against national security” and “organizing and creating house churches” as well as charges relating to his father's ministry.

Pastor Victor's wife Shamiran Issavi was summoned by the authorities in June 2017 to Evin Detention Centre, Branch 3 of the Revolutionary Court, and charged with "participating in foreign seminars" and "acting against Iranian national security" as a church member. She was released after one day on bail of 100 million Tomans (approximately $30,000).

Ramiel and Sham Iran’s hearing has not yet been scheduled. It is highly likely that their case also will be handled by Judge Ahmadpour.

Prayer requests

Iranian Christians request prayer

• that the appeal judge will overturn the convictions and sentences and will acquit Pastor Victor, Amin and Hadi

• that Amin and Hadi will be released from prison soon

• that bail money will be returned

• that the judge will acquit Ramiel and Shamiran;

• that those responsible for the persecution of Christians in Iran will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him.

Ten-year sentences

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that a judge in Iran has sentenced four Christians to 10 years imprisonment each for engaging in missionary activities and “conducting activities against national security.”

Judge Ahmedzadeh handed down the sentences in the case involving Iranian national Nasser Navard Goltape, and Yusif Farhadov, Eldar Gurbanov and Bahram Nasibov from the Republic of Azerbaijan during a hearing held on May 23, 2017.

However, the judgement was not communicated to them until June 12. Although the men are appealing the sentences, local sources are pessimistic about the outcome, despite the lack of evidence against them, as the authorities appear determined to use the case to make a punitive statement.

Original arrests

The four men were arrested on June 24, 2016, after traveling to Tehran on an informal visit to their Christian friends. They were confined in Evin Prison, where they initially spent around two months in solitary confinement enduring regular interrogation, before being moved to Ward 350.

They were released on bail on October 29, 2016, and the three Azeris were allowed to return to their country on November 7, 2016, having paid the full bail amount. The Azeri Christians may forfeit bail by not returning to Iran; however, Mr. Navard Goltape does not have this option.

Mansour Borji, advocacy director of Article 18, an organization that defends persecuted Christians in Iran, expressed deep concern at the sentences, pointing out that: “this recent verdict by Iran’s revolutionary court is particularly alarming, as many other Iranian Christians are still awaiting trial for exercising their right to worship as Christians in privacy of their homes.”

Previously, the maximum sentence issued in such cases was five years, and, in cases where defendants received two five year sentences, these were reduced to five years on appeal.

According to records compiled by Article 18, in the last three months Judge Ahmadzadeh has sentenced at least 16 Christians to between five and 10 years imprisonment.

Comment

“The charges and sentences against these four men are unwarranted and unjustifiable, given the paucity of the evidence against them,” Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said. “We are deeply concerned for Mr. Navard Goltape in particular, who is likely to bear the brunt of a sentence that was clearly issued on a punitive rather than on a legal basis.”

“We reiterate that the constant harassment of members of the Christian community ought not to be occurring in a country where the constitution not only recognizes Christianity, but also states that no-one should be molested or taken to task simply for holding a religious belief. As the three men launch their appeal, we urge the Iranian authorities to ensure due process is observed. We also call on the Iranian authorities to take steps to ensure that the nation’s practices, legal procedures and provisions come into alignment with its international commitment to ensure freedom of religion or belief for all of its religious communities.”


Topics: Persecution, Prayer


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