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First appeal hearing for pastor and three converts

First appeal hearing for pastor and three converts

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

Reverend Victor Bet-Tamraz and converts Hadi Asgari, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi and Amin Afshar-Naderi, sentenced to a combined 45 years in prison, had their first appeal hearing today in Tehran.

The Appeals Court was headed by Judge Hassan Babaee, who heard the case for the defence. Three of the defendants were present – all except Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi.

The judge postponed the final verdict until the next session of the court, but the date of that hearing has not yet been communicated to the four Christians.

Background

On 11 July 2017, Judge Ahmadzadeh of the Revolutionary Court condemned Reverend Victor Bet-Tamraz, and converts Hadi Asgari, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi and Amin Afshar-Naderi to a total of 45 years in prison for “acting against national security by organising and conducting house churches and Christian evangelism”. All four Christians were also sentenced to two years in exile at the conclusion of their prison terms.

Amin Afshar-Naderi was sentenced to an additional five years in prison for “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy against Islam).

Amin Afshar-Naderi and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi were first arrested on 26 December, 2014, as they celebrated Christmas at the home of their pastor, Victor Bet-Tamraz.

Hadi Asgari did not attend the Christmas celebration but was arrested on 26 August, 2016, along with several other Christians, including Amin Afshar-Naderi, during a raid on a private garden in Firoozkooh, near Tehran. 

Also arrested that day were Victor Bet-Tamraz’s son, Ramil, Mohammad Dehnavi and Amir Saman Dashti, who were all released on bail three months later. 

But Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari were detained for significantly longer – 11 months and 19 months, respectively – before being released on bail.

Victor Bet-Tamraz led the Assyrian Pentecostal Church of Shahrara in Tehran before it was forcibly closed in March 2009. 

With the pressure of officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and the intervention of Yonathan Betkolia, the Assyrian representative of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the pastor was removed from the leadership of the church and the church was forced to halt all meetings in Persian and ban all non-Assyrian members.

The incident marked the beginning of a period of widespread restrictions and closures of Persian-language churches by security officials across the country.

Timeline

26 December 2014 – Arrests of Christians participating in Christmas celebration at the home of pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz (Amin Afshar-Naderi, and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi among the detainees).

26 August 2016 – Arrest of seven Christians in Firoozkooh (Hadi Asgari, Amin Afshar-Naderi, and Ramil Bet-Tamraz among those detained).

19 June 2017 – Shamiram Issavi receives summons to Branch 3 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, where the charges against her are read out, before she is released on bail equivalent to around $30,000.

11 July 2017 – Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and converts Hadi Asgari, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi and Amin Afshar-Naderi sentenced to a combined total of 45 years in prison.

6 January 2018 – Shamiram Issavi sentenced to five years in prison.

25 April 2018 – First appeal hearing at the Revolutionary Court in Tehran for Rev. Victor Bet-Tamraz, Hadi Asgari, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, and Amin Afshar-Naderi, who were sentenced to a combined total of 45 years in prison.