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Iran: Christians given harsh prison sentences

05 July 2017

Three Iranian Christians have received long prison sentences for crimes such as 'organising and creating house churches', 'conducting evangelism', and 'Bible printing and distribution'.

Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, Amin Afshar Naderi and Hadi Asgari were also accused of 'acting against national security' and 'insulting the sacred' (i.e. blasphemy).

Following a hearing in June, Judge Ahmadpour sentenced Pastor Victor 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 £46,000) each.

'Organising and creating house churches'

These charges have been dragging on for years. Pastor Victor and Amin were among several Christians arrested on 26 December 2014 at a Christmas celebration at Pastor Victor's home in Tehran. Pastor Victor, who is of Assyrian background, was released on bail on 1 March. 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 Firuzkuh and charged with 'acting against national security' and 'organising and creating house churches'.

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 this week.

Wife and son also charged

The Iranian authorities have also taken action against Pastor Victor's family.

Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Pastor Victor's son, was arrested in August 2016 in Firuzkuh. He is currently awaiting a hearing on charges of 'acting against national security' and 'organising and creating house churches' as well as charges relating to his father's ministry. And Pastor Victor's wife, Shamiran Issavi, was summoned by the authorities in June 2017 to Evin Detention Centre, Branch 3 of the Revolutionary Court, where she was 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 £23,000).

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

Charged with drinking communion wine

These brothers and sisters are just some of the many Christians who face impriosnment and trial in Iran for simply celebrating their faith.

Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie are currently awaiting the outcome of an appeal against a sentence of 80 lashes each. They have been accused of 'acting against national security' and consumption of alcohol because they drank communion wine. Yasser, Saheb and Mohammadreza were arrested on 13th May 2016 with their pastor, Yousef, as they were celebrating communion. There have been two hearings in their case so far. They have appealed against the sentence of 80 lashes and await a final verdict.

'Scores' of Christians languishing in prison

Recently over 90 European and US faith leaders - including former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams - signed a petition urging Western governments to make the plight of religious minorities central to any deal with Iran. Stressing the 'harassment and persecution' of Iranian Christians by the 'ruling theocracy' they called on Western governments to make ending the oppression of religious minorities a precondition of any deals with Iran.

According to Middle East Concern, 'The situation of religious minorities has deteriorated in recent years, including during the tenure of President Hassan Rouhani. Scores of Iranian pastors are languishing in prisons solely for their beliefs.'

Lonely lives

Young Iranians who decide to become Christians face terrible pressure and difficulties. They cannot obtain Christian books and sometimes don't even have their own Bible. They live lonely lives, as their need for secrecy makes it almost impossible to get together with other Christians, as there's always the risk of being reported and arrested.

When they do get together they gather in small groups in people's homes. But even then, there is always the fear of being discovered. "We have to keep our voices down," says one Iranian Christian, "so the neighbours don't report us to the police."

Iran is number 8 on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. At least 193 Christians were arrested or imprisoned in Iran in 2016, many of them converts from Islam.

Please pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iran.

Source: Middle East Concern; World Watch Monitor

Please pray:

  • Pray for the success of the appeals and that justice will prevail
  • For international pressure to be applied to the Iranian government to allow religious freedom
  • For courage and endurance for the many Iranian Christians in jail, or facing a jail sentence.

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Find out more about persecution in Iran.