Iranian-Assyrian Christian couple lose appeals against combined 15 years in prison

Iranian-Assyrian Christian couple lose appeals against combined 15 years in prison

An Iranian-Assyrian couple sentenced to a combined 15 years in prison for teaching Muslim converts about Christianity have finally been informed that their longstanding appeals have failed.

It’s been more than three years since Victor Bet-Tamraz was sentenced to 10 years in prison, in July 2017, and over two and a half years since his wife, Shamiram, was given a five-year sentence, in January 2018.

Their daughter, Dabrina, who now lives in Switzerland, has spoken repeatedly of her fears for her parents’ safety, should they be forced to endure time behind bars, especially given recent reports of a coronavirus outbreak in Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Victor will celebrate his 66th birthday next month, and Shamiram turns 65 in December.

Since their sentencing, the couple have been summoned to countless appeal hearings, only for them to be cancelled for a variety of reasons including failure to officially summon every defendant, the court being “too crowded”, and the assigning of a new judge to the case.

Their last scheduled appeal hearing, on 1 June, was cancelled without excuse.

Another seven weeks of uncertainty passed until, finally, on 19 July, Victor received a telephone call from his lawyer, informing him that his appeal had been rejected and no further hearing would take place.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the same was true in Shamiram’s case, though the couple feared it would be, given that their cases had been officially merged by the new judge, Ahmad Zargar, in February 2019.

Finally, on Tuesday, 11 August, their worst fears were confirmed as Shamiram was summoned to Evin to begin her sentence.

She has until today, Sunday 16 August, to turn herself in.

How did it come to this?

It was during a Christmas celebration, way back in 2014, that the couple’s ordeal began.

Victor was arrested, alongside two Christian converts, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi, and held in solitary confinement for 65 days.

The converts were eventually sentenced alongside their pastor and a third convert, Hadi Asgari, in July 2017. Kavian and Hadi were also given 10 years in prison; Amin was sentenced to 15.

It remains unclear whether they, too, will soon be summoned to prison, as the Christians are using different lawyers – one of whom, Amirsalar Davoudi, is currently in prison himself and was recently diagnosed with Covid-19 – and only Victor’s has received any word from the prison authorities.

Indeed, Shamiram didn’t even know for sure that her sentence had been upheld until she received the summons on Tuesday.

The case against the five Christians has dragged on for so long now, and been the subject of intense international scrutiny including a campaign by Amnesty International and pleas for clemency by, among others, US Vice President Mike Pence.

But, once again, and in spite of its repeated claims that “no-one is put in prison only for his or her beliefs in Iran” – indeed, the constitution stipulates that “no-one should be molested or taken to task for simply holding a certain belief” – the Iranian regime continues to persecute and prosecute Christians only for meeting together to worship.

This is just the latest cruel – and unjustifiable – example.