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Amnesty International calls for repeal of Christians’ prison sentences

Amnesty International calls for repeal of Christians’ prison sentences

Clockwise from top-left: Hadi Asgari, Shamiram Issavi, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Victor Bet-Tamraz.

Following the publication of numerous reports by Article18 on the violation of the rights of a group of Iranian Christians, Amnesty International today issued an urgent campaign for their sentences to be repealed.

Amnesty International said the sentences against the pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife, Shamiram Issavi, and Christian converts Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari – of between five and 15 years in prison – were “solely for practising their Christian faith, including through attending Christmas gatherings and organising house churches. If imprisoned, they would be prisoners of conscience”.

Amnesty said that in sentencing the Christians, the Iranian authorities had “cited peaceful activities such as holding private Christmas gatherings, organising and conducting house churches, and travelling outside Iran to attend Christian seminars, as ‘illegal church activities’ which ‘threaten national security’ in order justify their convictions”.

They noted that the Christians, who are all currently on bail, are awaiting the results of their appeals.

Amnesty appealed to its supporters to call for Iran to “stop the harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and imprisonment of Christians, including converts”.

Victor was first arrested on 26 December 2014, along with Amin and another convert, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, as they celebrated Christmas together at the pastor’s home. After several months, they were released on bail, awaiting sentencing.

Amin was then re-arrested on 26 August 2016, alongside Hadi and three others (including Victor’s son, Ramil), at a private house in Firoozkooh, Tehran province.

In July 2017, Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Victor, Hadi, Amin and Kavian to 10 years in prison each for “constituting a house church with the aim of disrupting the security of the country”. The same court sentenced Amin to five years’ extra imprisonment for “insulting Islamic sanctities”.

Victor’s wife, Shamiram, was summoned to the prosecutor’s office in Evin Prison on 19 June 2017 and charged with crimes related to her Christian faith. In January 2018, Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced her to five years in prison for membership of a group that aimed to disrupt national security.

Amnesty International called for its supporters to write to the Iranian authorities, demanding that they: “Respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt or change a religion or belief of one’s choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.”

Supporters are told to send their protest letters to the head of the Iranian judiciary, the Tehran Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor, and the Deputy for Human Rights and International Affairs, before 4 October 2018.

Mansour Borji, Article18’s advocacy director, welcomed Amnesty’s campaign, saying: “The protests of Iranian citizens and Christians throughout the world can be a positive step in a long road towards recovering the trampled rights of Christians and other religious minorities.”

He added: “There are even more Christians – like Ebrahim Firouzi, Sevada Aghasar, Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammad Reza Omidi, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaee, Mohammad Ali Mosayebzadeh, and Majid Reza Souzanchi – who have been sentenced to 5-10 years in prison, and we also want to see them freed.”