Christians’ appeal hearing postponed again over procedural issue

Christians’ appeal hearing postponed again over procedural issue

Left to right: Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, Amin Afshar-Naderi, and Hadi Asgari.

Once again an appeal hearing in the case of five Christians sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison has been postponed.

Assyrian Christian pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and his wife, Shamiram Issavi, who are facing ten and five years in prison respectively, turned up to court yesterday alongside their lawyers – who also represent the other three Christians – only to be told their cases could not be heard because a summons for one of the Christians, Hadi Asgari, had not been sent.

Even though Hadi’s lawyer was present – he also represents Shamiram – the procedural mistake could not be overlooked and the hearing was postponed.  

It is now nearly three years since the sentencing of pastor Victor, Hadi and fellow convert Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi to ten years in prison, and another convert, Amin Afshar-Naderi, to 15 years.

It is also more than two years since Victor’s wife, Shamiram, received her own five-year sentence.

And in those years, the same pattern has repeated itself, again and again. A court hearing is scheduled, the Christians and/or their lawyers show up, and they are then promptly sent away again and told another hearing will be rescheduled in due course.

Each time there’s a different excuse. At the last hearing, in November, the court was “too crowded”.

Previously, the presiding judge could not understand why the cases for pastor Victor and his wife had been separated, and ruled that they ought to be heard together, before promptly rescheduling.

This time, there was a new judge in charge at the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran. It seems the notorious Hassan Babaei andAhmad Zargar have been reassigned. 

The Christians’ lawyers didn’t know the new judge, but are reported to have been pleased with his approach.

He is reported to have remarked that the case has dragged on for “too long”, and that, therefore, he will rule on the matter at the next hearing.

For pastor Victor and Shamiram’s daughter, Dabrina, who has been a constant advocate for her parents and other Christians in Iran, such closure would bring relief, but with the finality of a verdict also comes nerves.

“On the one hand I’m relieved that they have a different judge, who is actually dismissing and cancelling many charges of other people, which is positive, and his behaviour with my family was positive,” she told Article18 by phone today. “The impression from the lawyers was also positive, but you never know, right? Are they lying? Are they showing their true face, or not?”

She added: “I can’t say I’m disappointed [at the postponement]. I would of course be delighted when the whole thing is over and my family can go free, but on the other hand we don’t want them to go to prison…” 

Cause for celebration

Ramiel Bet-Tamraz, pictured with his parents

Meanwhile, Dabrina shared happier news in the case of her brother, Ramiel, who is currently serving a four-month sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Dabrina told Article18 that her brother was told only yesterday that he is set to be released for the beginning of Persian New Year, on 20 March.

This will mark a slightly early release for Ramiel, who submitted himself at Evin Prison on 7 January.

Dabrina shared that her brother is in good spirits and that he has enjoyed daily phone calls with his parents and weekly visits on Tuesdays.

She added that he has greatly appreciated the chance to pray and worship with the other Christians currently incarcerated in Evin Prison, including Yousef Nadarkhani and Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh.

He told Dabrina that they each take it in turns to give a short sermon, and that tomorrow is his turn and he is hoping to retell one of his father’s old sermons, if he can remember it.

“He’s a very positive guy,” Dabrina said. “He’s an extremely lively, happy person. He takes everything lightly; he’s not very serious, so he makes the best out of it all. So even in prison he’s fine, he’s happy, he’s making jokes and laughs, and trying to make the best out of it – mainly for my parents, so they won’t be too troubled.”

Dabrina added that the conditions in prison are “not too bad – for a prison”.

“They can cook, they can eat well,” she said. “They are free to move and talk to each other; they have time where they can go for a walk outside for fresh air, they have a telephone so they can make phone calls with their families every day, and once a week meet family members – on Tuesdays.”

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