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Christian convert Ali Amini arrested in Tabriz

Christian convert Ali Amini arrested in Tabriz

A Christian convert arrested ahead of Christmas in Tabriz, northwest Iran, is still in the city’s central prison, according to Article18’s sources.

Ali Amini (nicknamed Philip) was arrested by intelligence agents on 10 December, when they stormed his workplace and seized his personal belongings, including his mobile phone and laptop.

His elderly father was also present during the raid.

Ali is married and has two children, aged three and one.

Every year ahead of Christmas, the Iranian government ramps up its pressure on Christians. Four other converts were also arrested in Karaj, Alborz province, ahead of Christmas 2017.

Recently, four UN human rights activists called on Iran to ensure Iranian Christians are given “fair and transparent” hearings.

Independent experts have also emphasised that Christian minorities in Iran face severe discrimination, especially those who have changed religion to Christianity.

Assyrian Christian Shamiram Issavi sentenced to 5 years in prison

Assyrian Christian Shamiram Issavi sentenced to 5 years in prison

The court hearing on the case of Shamiram Issavi, the wife of the pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, was held on 6 January at a Revolutionary Court in Tehran under the chairmanship of Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh.

The Iranian-Assyrian Christian was sentenced to five years in prison for “acting against national security by establishing and managing ‘house churches’, participating in Christian seminars abroad, and training Christian leaders in Iran for the purposes of espionage”. She has lodged an appeal against the verdict.

Shamiram was summoned to the Revolutionary Court in June last year and released on bail equivalent to 33,000 dollars.

Her husband was last year sentenced to 10 years in prison on similar charges. Their son, Ramil, has also faced charges and is currently on bail. 

Victor, along with three Christian converts, Hadi Asgari, Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi and Amin Afshar-Naderi, were each sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in July 2017 at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court, headed by Judge Ahmadzadeh. Amin was sentenced to an additional five years in prison for “insulting the sacred” (blasphemy). They were convicted of acting against national security by establishing and managing “house churches”. All four have also been banned from traveling for two years.

The pastor and his wife and son, along with a group of Christian converts, were first detained by plain-clothed officers on 26 December 2014, as they celebrated Christmas at home. After submitting written answers to a questionnaire prepared in advance by the interrogators, and signing a commitment not to make contact with other Christians or attend any Christians gathering, the intelligence officers released all members of the group except for the pastor and two others – Amin and Kavian – who were taken to prison. Victor was released on bail after 65 days of arrest, mostly in solitary confinement.

Two years later, on 26 August 2016, law enforcement officers arrested Amin for a second time, as he picnicked with friends at a private property in the Firoozkooh district of northern Tehran. Also arrested that day and taken to Tehran’s Evin Prison were Hadi, Ramil and two other converts, Amir Saman-Dashti and Mohammad Dehnavi.

Victor and Shamiram were the official leaders of 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 Farsi and ban all non-Assyrian members.

The increasing pressures on Christians and other religious minorities in Iran is in contravention of Article 25 of Iran’s Charter on Citizens’ Rights, which was unveiled under President Rouhani’s administration and states: “Citizens have freedom of thought. Inquisition is prohibited, and no one can be persecuted merely for his or her beliefs.”

Mohammad Ali Torabi released on bail

Mohammad Ali Torabi released on bail

Christian convert Mohammad Ali Torabi has been released from Ahvaz Prison on a bail of 200 million tomans (around $60,000).

Mohammad, 39, who is known as David among his Christian friends and leads the Message of Peace Church, was arrested in Dezful on 10 October at his workplace in the Qal’a Sayyed district and transferred to Ahvaz.

A fellow church worker at the same Dezful church, Abdul Ali Pourmand, 38, also known as Elias, was arrested and transferred to Ahvaz prison 11 days later, on 21 October.

Last week it was reported that interrogators from the Ministry of Intelligence had forced both men to sign two blank pieces of paper, raising concerns that they could be used as evidence the men had confessed their crimes or renounced their faith.

A month after his arrest, Abdul, who is also a convert to Christianity, told his family from the prison telephone that he had been ordered to take part in Islamic prayers but had refused.

Iran’s treatment of Christians is in contravention of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as Article 25 of Iran’s Charter on Citizens’ Rights, which was unveiled under President Rouhani’s administration and states: “Citizens have freedom of thought. Inquisition is prohibited, and no one can be persecuted merely for his or her beliefs.”

10-year prison sentences upheld for four Christians

10-year prison sentences upheld for four Christians

From left: Bahram Nasibov, Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh.: and Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh

An Iranian court has upheld the ten-year prison sentences given to one Iranian and three Azerbaijani Christians in July. 

Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, an Iranian convert to Christianity, was arrested alongside the Azerbaijanis – Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov – at a gathering of Christians in June 2016.

They were found guilty of “actions against [Iran’s] national security”, “missionary activities”, “organic relations with Sweden’s ‘Word of Life’ Church”, “soft subversive activities against the Islamic Republic regime” and “Zionist Christianity”.

The three Azerbaijanis were allowed to leave Iran in November 2016 and are unlikely to have to serve their sentences as they will not be forced to return.

But Nasser, a convert from a Muslim background, remains in Iran and will now have to serve his sentence after his appeal failed.

The Azerbaijanis, who are from Baku, were detained on 24 June 2016, along with several other Iranian citizens, while visiting Iran as guests of Iranian Christian groups. Most of the detainees were released after being interrogated.

Article 18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, dismissed the charges as “illusory” and “a reflection of the Islamic republic’s security-oriented approach towards religious minorities”.

He added: “We are deeply concerned by the continuing use of baseless charges that seem to act as smokescreen for religiously motivated charges and are utilised to suppress the right to freedom of religion or belief in Iran. So many Christians in Iran are accused of these baseless charges merely for attending prayer meetings in the privacy of their homes.”