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‘Baseless’ accusations against entire Assyrian Christian family at appeal hearing

‘Baseless’ accusations against entire Assyrian Christian family at appeal hearing

Shamiram Issavi’s first appeal hearing against her five-year jail sentence took place today in Tehran.

During the hearing, the prosecutor’s representative reportedly accused the entire family of this Assyrian-speaking Christian of activities against the regime on “baseless” charges.

Shamiram’s husband, Victor, was last year sentenced to 10 years in prison, and their son, Ramil, is currently awaiting the verdict of his own trial.

Shamiram and Victor’s daughter, Dabrina, who now lives in Europe, told Article18: “At this hearing, the judge was respectful, but only accepted the written defence written by the lawyer and did not ask or answer any questions from my mother. The prosecutor’s representative responded to the lawyer’s defence in writing.”

She added: “The judge will issue a verdict after reading this defence.”

Judge Hassan Babaee has postponed the final verdict until the next court hearing, though the date of that hearing has not yet been communicated to Shamiram or her lawyer.

Shamiram was first summoned to the Revolutionary Court in June last year and released on bail after paying 100 million tomans (around $30,000).

Then on 6 January, the Revolutionary Court, chaired by Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh, sentenced Shamiram to five years in prison for “acting against national security by participating in house churches in Iran and Christian seminars abroad, as well as teaching Christian leaders in Iran how to spy.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, commented: “Over the years, the security services have made great efforts to expel Christian leaders and activists from Iran by exerting extrajudicial pressure and making false accusations through the Revolutionary Courts. They have tried to control or eliminate Persian-speaking Christianity under seemingly legal cover.

“When Ayatollah Khamenei [in October 2010] described the ‘network of house-churches’ as a threat to the pillars of the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Revolutionary Courts interpreted participation in or membership in these churches as ‘acting against national security’.”

Background

Shamiram’s husband, Victor Bet-Tamraz, a well-known Assyrian pastor, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2017, alongside three of his church members – all converts – for “acting against national security by organising and conducting house churches and Christian evangelism”.

The first appeal hearing in his case was held on 25 April.

Their son, Ramil, also faces similar charges and is currently 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.

The pastor was first arrested as he celebrated Christmas with a group of converts on 26 December 2014. He was taken to Evin Prison and placed in solitary confinement, before being released on bail 65 days later.

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.

9 May 2018 – First appeal hearing for Shamiram Issavi at the Revolutionary Court.