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Christian convert, 62, released from prison, leave extended for two others

Christian convert, 62, released from prison, leave extended for two others

Mahrokh Ghanbari (right) has been told she does not need to return to prison. Aylar Bakhteri (left) and Amin Khaki have had their leave extended by 15 days.

A 62-year-old Iranian woman convert to Christianity has been told she does not need to return to prison to complete her one-year sentence for “propaganda against the regime”.

Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari was one of at least seven Christians among the tens of thousands of Iranian prisoners given temporary leave from prison in the past few weeks, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Mahrokh returned to Shahid Kachooei Prison in her home city of Karaj yesterday, only to be told she was “no longer needed”. 

She is hoping to receive back the 30 million tomans (around $2,000) she deposited for bail in the coming days. 

Mahrokh had served a little over four months of her one-year sentence.

Meanwhile, two other Christian converts on temporary leave from prison – Fatemeh (Aylar) Bakhteri and Amin Khaki, both 36 years old – have had their leave extended until the end of the current Persian-calendar month, equivalent to 18 April.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, welcomed Mahrokh’s release and the extension to Aylar and Amin’s leave. 

He added: “We hope that Aylar and Amin’s leave will also be turned into permanent release, as being forced to return to prison is not only unjust but can also put them in serious risk under the current circumstances.”

Aylar began her one-year jail sentence on 31 August 2019 at Tehran’s Evin Prison. Amin began his 14-month sentence at the central detention centre in Karaj on 6 July 2019. Like Mahrokh, both were convicted of “propaganda against the regime”, as a result of the peaceful practice of their Christian faith.

Amin and Mahrokh were among the first cohort of prisoners given 36 days’ leave on 2 March, as well as another Christian convert who cannot be identified, as Iran responded to continued calls from human rights groups to release prisoners of conscience, amidst fears the country’s overcrowded prisons could become a hotbed for the disease to spread.

Two weeks later, on 15 March, Aylar was also given temporary leave

Previously, on 26 February, Assyrian-Iranian Christian Ramiel Bet-Tamraz, 35, was released from prison three weeks ahead of schedule, as was another Christian convert who cannot be identified. 

On the same day, Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi, 21, was released on a bail of 30 million tomans ($2,000), pending a court hearing five days later, which was later postponed to 14 April.

Mary tweeted that the decision to continue scheduling court cases and imprisoning people during the coronavirus crisis should be considered a “crime against humanity”.

It is also believed that Majidreza Souzanchi, 36, who is coming to the end of his two-year sentence, has been or is soon to be released.

10 Christians still detained

Clockwise from top left: Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Zaman Fadaei, Mohammad Reza Omidi, and Yousef Nadarkhani.

However, ten Iranian Christians serving longer sentences of between five and ten years remain in prison, despite calls for their release.

This includes four Christians whose convictions are currently being reviewed.

Yousef Nadarkhani, 42, Mohammad Reza (Yohan) Omidi, 46, and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaei, 36, have made several requests for release on bail since their retrials were accepted in October, and their families are increasingly anxious about them.

The same is true for the family of Nasser Navard Gol Tapeh, who is 58 years old and has suffered several health issues

Nasser was finally granted a retrial in February, having initially been denied in October.

Saheb has also suffered health issues, and was recently denied treatment in prison despite suffering from a fever and hallucinating.

The other Christians still being detained are Mohammad Ali Mossayezbazeh, who was sentenced alongside Yousef, Saheb and Yohan; and Abdolreza Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, and Behnam Akhlaghi, who recently lost their appeals against five-year sentences.

All of them, apart from Nasser, are from the northern city of Rasht and are part of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran”. 

Four more “Church of Iran” members from Rasht – Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafada – are currently out on bail, awaiting summonses to serve their own five-year sentences, having lost their appeals alongside Abdolreza, Shahrooz, Babak, Mehdi and Behnam.

Several other Christians are currently enmeshed in ongoing court cases, including Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram and three Christian converts – Ramiel Bet-Tamraz, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi – whose appeal hearings have been repeatedly postponed. Their next hearing is scheduled for 1 May.


For an up-to-date list of all known court proceedings involving Iranian Christians, see our Prisoners List.

Iranian Christians denied furloughs even though retrials underway

Iranian Christians denied furloughs even though retrials underway

Clockwise from top left: Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Zaman Fadaei, Mohammad Reza Omidi, and Yousef Nadarkhani.

Four Iranian Christians serving ten-year sentences in Tehran’s Evin Prison are being denied temporary release even though their requests for retrials have been accepted.

Yousef Nadarkhani, 42, Mohammad Reza (Yohan) Omidi, 46, and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaei, 36, have made several requests for release on bail since their retrials were accepted in October, and their families are increasingly anxious about them in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The same is true for the family of Nasser Navard Gol Tapeh, who is 58 years old and has suffered several health issues. Nasser was finally granted a retrial last month, having initially been denied in October.

Saheb has also suffered health issues, and was recently denied treatment in prison despite suffering from a fever and hallucinating.

Prisons became a hotbed for the spread of the coronavirus in China, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran has called for the release of all prisoners of conscience to reduce the potential spread of the virus.

Iran’s judiciary have reported the release of as many as 83,000 prisoners serving short-term sentences. At least seven Christians were among them: 

Most recently, on Sunday, Fatemeh (Aylar) Bakhteri, 36, was given a temporary furlough, though details of the terms of her release are yet to emerge.

It is also believed that Majidreza Souzanchi, 36, who is coming to the end of his two-year sentence, has been or is soon to be released.

Previously, on 26 February, Assyrian-Iranian Christian Ramiel Bet-Tamraz, 35, was released from prison three weeks ahead of schedule, as was a Christian convert who cannot be identified. 

On the same day, Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi, 21, was released on a bail of 30 million tomans ($2,250), pending a court hearing five days later, which was later postponed to 14 April.

Mary tweeted that the decision to continue scheduling court cases and imprisoning people during the coronavirus crisis should be considered a “crime against humanity”.

Three more Christian converts were given 36 days’ leave from prison on 2 March: Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari, 62, Amin Khaki, 36, and another Christian convert who cannot be identified.

Who are the remaining Christian prisoners?

Alongside Yousef, Saheb, Yohan and Nasser, there are at least a further six Christians in prison: Mohammad Ali Mossayezbazeh, who was sentenced alongside Yousef, Saheb and Yohan, and Abdolreza Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, and Behnam Akhlaghi, who recently lost their appeals against five-year sentences.

All of them, apart from Nasser, are from the northern city of Rasht and are part of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran”. 

Nasser, who was initially sentenced alongside three men from Azerbaijan, is from Tehran. 

Four more “Church of Iran” members from Rasht – Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafada – are currently out on bail, awaiting summonses to serve their own five-year sentences, having lost their appeals alongside Abdolreza, Shahrooz, Babak, Mehdi and Behnam.

Several other Christians are currently enmeshed in ongoing court cases, including Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram and three Christian converts – Ramiel Bet-Tamraz, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi – whose appeal hearings have been repeatedly postponed. Their next hearing has been scheduled for 1 May.


For an up-to-date list of all known court proceedings involving Iranian Christians, see our Prisoners List.

Ebrahim Firouzi’s exile extended by 11 months

Ebrahim Firouzi’s exile extended by 11 months

A Christian convert serving two years in internal exile in a remote southeastern Iranian city has had his exile extended for a further 11 months owing to an unauthorised leave of absence.

Ebrahim Firouzi, who is 34, began his exile on 12 November 2019, just two weeks after returning home from six years in prison because of his Christian evangelism.

He was sent to the remote city of Sarbaz, 1,000 miles from his home in Robat Karim, near Tehran, and told to travel there at his own expense and to remain there for two years, signing in every day to prove his presence.

However, shortly after arriving, Ebrahim requested a short furlough from the local authorities to travel to the city of Hamedan, west of Robat Karim, to sort out some family affairs that he hadn’t been able to attend to in the short time between his release from prison and journey into exile.

Ebrahim told Article18 the matter related to his mother, who died during Ebrahim’s time in prison and was denied permission to see him in her last days, despite an emotional plea for one last chance to see her son.

Ebrahim was told by the local authorities in Sarbaz that a short leave of absence shouldn’t be a problem, but that they needed to check with the authorities in Robat Karim. 

He was told to wait for their response, but having not heard anything for several days, Ebrahim decided to proceed with his plans, and left Sarbaz on 13 December, returning six days later.

But on his return, Ebrahim was informed that his absence had been reported to the judicial authorities in Tehran and that he should have obtained permission from the court in Robat Karim, which sent him.

Hearing this, Ebrahim immediately took a flight to Robat Karim and was eventually able to obtain a signed letter by a judge authorising his absence.

With this in hand, he returned to Sarbaz on 27 December, two weeks to the day after he first left. But on his return, Ebrahim was told that it was in fact the prosecutor’s office in Tehran, not Robat Karim, from which he ought to have sought permission.

He was also advised not to sign in again until the matter was resolved, because, they said, he was likely to be summoned to Tehran, and if he were to go there, it would be seen as a second leave of absence, the punishment for which would be to serve the remainder of his sentence in prison.

A copy of the court document sent to Ebrahim, dated 11 March 2020.

Hoping to hear from Tehran within a few weeks, Ebrahim heeded their advice, but in fact it wasn’t until yesterday, three months on from his leave of absence, that Ebrahim finally received a letter informing him that his sentence had been increased by eight months, plus an extra three months to cover the period of time in which he had failed to provide signatures to prove his presence in Sarbaz.

So there would be no court hearing, after all, and Ebrahim’s sentence was the maximum he could have faced – of one third of his sentence, plus the time he had spent “on leave”, albeit primarily still within Sarbaz.

In the ruling, which was declared final, with no option to appeal, the judge included some false information, citing one charge against Ebrahim that he had never faced – “cyber-spying” – and another – “propaganda against Islam” – that he had once faced but had been acquitted of.

Ebrahim gave this reaction to Article18: “The court has given a final verdict, without giving me an opportunity to explain or to defend myself, and uses charges against me which are either unrelated, or I’ve been acquitted of. Therefore I have decided to take this matter to the media, to demand an explanation, and make my voice heard, as this is an example of a miscarriage of justice by the Iranian judiciary.” 

Ebrahim added that he believed the judge who had made the ruling must either have been unqualified – due to the substantial errors made in the text – or included the misleading information with a view to damaging his reputation with people in Sarbaz, who, Ebrahim said, “have accepted and respected me as a Christian”.

Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, commented: “One of the most-documented accusations against the Iranian authorities has been miscarriages of justice, vague and unfounded charges used indiscriminately against religious and political activists. Ebrahim, and the recent court ruling against him, is a living example of this.”

Convert gets two more years in prison  for ‘Evangelical Zionist Christianity’

Convert gets two more years in prison for ‘Evangelical Zionist Christianity’

Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad has been sentenced to an additional two years in prison.

The 65-year-old was sentenced in January to three years in prison for “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs”.

Now, following a court hearing on 27 February, he has been sentenced to an additional two years in prison for “membership of a group hostile to the regime”, under Article 499 of the Islamic Penal Code, which provides for three months to five years’ imprisonment.

The court document detailed that the “hostile” group in question espoused “Evangelical Zionist Christianity”.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, said that given that Ismaeil is a member of the Anglican Church, this shows that “such blanket labelling is inaccurately applied to any Christian arrested for their religious activities, as the revolutionary courts try to justify their violations of religious freedom”.

The judge added that his ruling was based on a report by the intelligence branch of Iran’s military, though no details were given of what this evidence entailed.

Mr Borji noted that it was “odd and somewhat rare” that the military were involved in a case relating to a civilian with no links to the military.

Ismaeil has 20 days to appeal.

Background

Ismaeil initially faced four charges following his arrest in January 2019: “propaganda against the the Islamic Republic” and “apostasy”, as well as the two charges mentioned above.

In October, Ismaeil’s bail was increased tenfold after he responded to a question from the judge about whether he had insulted Islam and was an apostate by saying that he had never insulted Islam and that different ayatollahs had different opinions over the question of apostasy.

If found guilty of apostasy, Ismaeil could have faced the death sentence, though this is rarely given to Christians in Iran and the charge was dropped in November.

At that same November court hearing, the judge ruled that the case against him regarding “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” was “applicable”, because he had created a Telegram channel in which he had “promoted evangelical Christianity”.

Ismaeil’s next hearing, on 8 January, focused solely on the charge of “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs in the cyberspace”, for which Ismaeil was found guilty because he had forwarded a message that had been sent to his phone, which poked fun at the ruling Iranian clerics.

Mr Borji said at the time that the sentence was a “disproportionate reaction to something so ordinary”.

“The other charges that Ismaeil is facing, as well as the now-quashed charge of apostasy, related to his conversion to Christianity. This may reveal the real reason why he’s been charged for something that most ordinary Iranians do on a daily basis,” he said.

Ismaeil’s defence team pointed out that he was not even the originator of the joke.

40 years a Christian

Ismaeil converted to Christianity nearly 40 years ago and has since been regularly harassed by Iran’s security forces, despite Iran’s own constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, both guaranteeing freedom of religion, including the right to hold a religion of one’s choosing and to propagate that religion.

Ismaeil’s daughter, Mahsa, told Article18 last year she believed her father was being harassed in part because she and her husband, Nathan, who now live in America, continue to pastor Christians in Iran through the Internet.

Article18’s latest annual report highlighted the harassment faced by Mahsa’s father and also Nathan’s parents, who received several visits from intelligence agents in 2019, with the agenda of putting pressure on them and damaging their reputation in the community.

Christian converts lose appeals against five-year sentences

Christian converts lose appeals against five-year sentences

Clockwise from top-left: Mohammed Vafada, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour, 
Behnam Akhlaghi, Mehdi Khatibi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Shahrooz Eslamdoost and Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad. 
(Middle East Concern)

Nine Christian converts have lost their appeals against five-year prison sentences, though none of the men, nor their lawyers, were permitted to attend the 25 February hearing.

A lawyer for one of the men told Article18 that Iran is attempting to expedite its judicial processes due to a backlog of cases related to recent protests and a general slowdown as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The nine Christians – Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoost, Behnam Akhlaghi, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, Khalil Dehghanpour, Hossein Kadivar, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafada – were sentenced in October to five years in prison for their Christian activities, which were deemed “actions against national security”.

Five of the men – Abdolreza, Shahrooz, Behnam, Babak and Mehdi – have been in Tehran’s Evin Prison since July.

The other four are out of bail, but can now expect to be summoned to serve their sentences any day.

Background

The nine men were arrested during raids on their homes and house-churches within the space of a month in January and February 2019. 

Seven of them – all except Abdolreza and Shahrooz – were released on bail in March, after posting the equivalent of $13,000 each. Abdolreza and Shahrooz were detained.

In July, Abdolreza, Shahrooz, Behnam, Babak and Mehdi had their bail increased tenfold after insisting upon being defended by their own lawyer. 

Judge Mohammed Moghisheh, who has earned the nickname the “Judge of Death” for his harsh treatment of prisoners of conscience, rejected their choice and demanded they were defended by a lawyer of the court’s choosing.

When they refused, the judge increased their bail amount to the equivalent of $130,000 each, and, being unable and unprepared to pay such an amount, they were transferred to Ward 4 of Tehran’s Evin Prison, where they have remained.

The other four decided to defend themselves and were therefore released on their pre-existing bail (the equivalent of $13,000 each) until their next hearing, when the judge accused them of promoting Zionism and said the Bible had been falsified.

All nine men are from the northern city of Rasht and are members of the non-Trinitarian “Church of Iran”, the same church as imprisoned pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and fellow converts Saheb (Zaman) Fadaee, Mohammad Ali Mosayebzadeh and Mohammad Reza Omidi, who are all serving ten-year prison sentences.

Six Christians among 54,000 released from prison

Six Christians among 54,000 released from prison

Amin Khaki and Mahrokh Ghanbari have been granted 36 days’ leave from prison.

Six Christians were among the more than 54,000 prisoners released from custody in Iran over the past week, as part of efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Article18 has already reported on the early release of Assyrian-Iranian Christian Ramiel Bet-Tamraz and the release on bail of Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi on Wednesday last week. Another Christian convert who cannot be named was also released that day.

Then on Monday, 2 March, three more Christian converts were given 36 days’ leave from prison: Rokhsareh (Mahrokh) Ghanbari, who is serving a one-year sentence; Amin Khaki, whose sentence is 14 months; and a third convert who also cannot be identified.

Mahrokh was forced to submit 30 million tomans for bail (around $2,000) – the same as Mary Mohammadi – and Amin 50 million (around ($3,000).

Mary Mohammadi is out on bail, while Ramiel Bet-Tamraz was released three weeks ahead of schedule.

Rights groups have been calling for the release of all political prisoners for weeks, noting that prisons in China, where the virus first emerged, became a hotbed for the disease.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Iran highlighted in his most recent report that the country’s overcrowded prisons are a “source of infections and ill-health” and the “spread of infectious and communicable diseases”.

Succumbing to the growing pressure, on Monday Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, announced that more than 54,000 prisoners who had tested negative for the coronavirus had been released on bail.

The leave did not apply to security prisoners serving sentences of more than five years, Mr Esmaili said, which could explain why more Christian prisoners of conscience were not freed.

Five Christians are currently serving ten-year sentences on security-related charges – Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, Yousef Nadarkhani, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie, Mohammad Ali Mossayezbazeh, and Mohammad Reza Omidi

Left to right: Saheb Fadaei, Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammad Ali Mossayebzadeh and Mohammad Reza Omidi.

Another five – Abdolreza Haghnejad, Shahrooz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Mehdi Khatibi, and Behnam Akhlaghi – have been detained since July last year. They are appealing against five-year sentences.

It is not clear, however, why there has been no furlough for Christian convert Fatemeh (Aylar) Bakhtari, who, like Mahrokh, is serving a one-year sentence. 

The families of detainees have called for more prisoners to be released, including those serving longer sentences, with the sister of an imprisoned environmentalist noting that the virus “is unaware of [the length of] sentences when it infects people”.

Counting the cost

Iran has recorded the highest number of deaths (92) from the virus outside of China.

Several senior Iranian figures have been infected, including 23 MPs and the Vice President for women and family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, while a member of the Expediency Council, Mohammad Mirmohammadi – reportedly a close confidant of the Supreme Leader – has died.

Iran rejected an offer of assistance from the United States, but a team of World Health Organization officials have been allowed into the country.

The government has not confirmed any cases of the virus in its prisons, though there have been claims of infections at several prisons.

An open letter by 100 Sunni prisoners in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj claimed the authorities were not doing enough to combat the spread of the virus.

They said they had not been provided with masks, gloves and disinfectant, as requested, and were refused temporary leave.

Mary Mohammadi thanks supporters as court hearing postponed

Mary Mohammadi thanks supporters as court hearing postponed

Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi has used her first social-media post since her arrest on 12 January to thank her supporters for their concern during her 45 days in detention.

“I am grateful for all of you dear friends who have been concerned and followed my situation with concern,” Mary wrote on her Twitter page yesterday.

Mary added that her court hearing, scheduled for yesterday, had been postponed, but that she was not allowed to reveal the reason for the cancellation.

Article18 understands from a well-placed source that the hearing was postponed as part of the Iranian response to the fast-spreading coronavirus.

Mary added that no new date had been set for the hearing to take place.

Background

Mary was arrested near Azadi Square, Tehran, as protests took place after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards admitted they were behind the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane.

Mary was held incommunicado for a month after her arrest before Article18 was finally able to confirm that she was being held in Qarchak Prison, south of Tehran.

The following day, the Persian-language news site HRANA reported that during her detention Mary had been beaten so badly – by male and female officers – that the bruises were visible for three weeks.

Mary was forced to sit in a yard for hours in extremely cold weather, opposite the toilets, and was not given any food until 24 hours after her arrest. She was also strip-searched twice by female officers, who told her that if she refused to remove her clothes, they would rip them from her.

Open Doors USA noted that Mary was one of around 2,000 prisoners in Qarchak, which is considered the worst women’s prison in Iran and has been sanctioned by the US for “gross human rights violations”, including abuse, arbitrary beatings, little drinking water and “creating an environment for rape and murder”.

‘Illegal rally’

Mary was charged with “disturbing public order by participating in an illegal rally” and initially refused bail, despite her family taking pains to raise the necessary 30 million tomans ($2,250), equivalent to more than the average annual salary under Iran’s current economic constraints.

But then on Wednesday last week, Mary was unexpectedly granted bail, ahead of her court hearing five days later.

There had been calls for the release of all political prisoners, over concerns the coronavirus could spread quickly within Iran’s overcrowded prisons.

Fellow Christian prisoner Ramiel Bet-Tamraz was also released from prison on the same day as Mary, three weeks ahead of his scheduled release.

The most recent report from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, noted that Iran’s prisons were 27.7% above capacity – at 189,500 overall – even before the arrest of at least 7,000 protesters in November and after the release of some 61,000 prisoners to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the revolution.

He added that overcrowding provides a “source of infections and ill-health” and the “spread of infectious and communicable diseases”.

More about Mary

Mary is a rare example of a Christian activist still living in Iran and has already served six months in prison for her Christian activities, for which she was convicted of “action against national security” and “propaganda against the system”.

Last July, Mary faced fresh criminal charges relating to her “improper” wearing of hijab. Those charges, which were eventually quashed, were brought against her after she initially went to police to complain of an assault.

Then in December, Mary was kicked out of her Tehran university, without explanation, on the eve of her English-language exams.

In an interview with Article18, she said the denial of education was “used as a lever to apply pressure on religious minorities and human rights activists in the hope that individuals will halt their activities and abandon their beliefs”. 

Mary’s case gained international attention, with even the US President, Donald Trump, citing her arrest during a high-profile national address.

Assyrian Christian Ramiel Bet-Tamraz released from prison

Assyrian Christian Ramiel Bet-Tamraz released from prison

Ramiel Bet-Tamraz with his parents, Victor and Shamiram.

Dabrina Bet-Tamraz has informed Article18 that her brother, Ramiel, an Assyrian Christian and son of pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, was released from prison yesterday.

Ramiel was serving a four-month sentence for his participation in house-churches.

He had already served a month of his sentence before he was summoned, in January, to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Article18 had already reported on Tuesday that Ramiel was set to be released slightly early, on 22 March, for the beginning of Persian New Year.

But Ramiel has now been released even earlier, Dabrina confirmed to Article18, and he will not have to return to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.

A number of other prisoners serving short-term sentences of less than three months have also reportedly been released, as Iran seeks to combat the spread of the coronavirus, amidst concerns that its overcrowded prisons could experience an outbreak.

Dabrina told Article18 before her brother’s release that he was in good spirits and that he had had the opportunity to pray with fellow Christian prisoners such as Yousef Nadarkhani and Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh.

Background

Ramiel was arrested in August 2016 alongside four other Christians enjoying a picnic in Firuzkuh, in the Alborz Mountains northeast of Tehran.

Ramiel and the other Christians were detained and held in Evin Prison, Tehran, for several weeks.

Initially, Ramiel was accused of supporting the activities of his father, and holding “illegal church meetings”.

He was eventually sentenced in July 2018 to four months in prison for “propaganda against the system” through membership of a house-church.

The entire Bet-Tamraz family has been placed under intense pressure in recent years.

Pastor Victor has been sentenced to ten years in prison and his wife, Shamiram Issavi, to five years. They have been on bail, awaiting the outcome of their appeals, for more than two years in Shamiram’s case and nearly three in the case of her husband.

A succession of court cases have been scheduled and then postponed, the latest on Monday when a new judge said the proceedings could not take place because a summons for a Christian convert sentenced alongside them, Hadi Asgari, had not been sent

Previous excuses for postponements include the court being “too crowded” and a previous judge’s confusion as to why the couple’s case had not initially been combined.

Pastor Victor was convicted of “conducting evangelism” and “illegal house-church activities”, among other charges amounting to “actions against national security”.

Shamiram Issavi was convicted of “acting against national security establishing and managing house-churches, participating in Christian seminars abroad, and training Christian leaders in Iran for the purposes of espionage”. 

Victor Bet-Tamraz was pastor of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Tehran, the last Assyrian-Iranian church to hold services in the Persian language before its forcible closure in 2009. After that, pastor Victor and his wife began holding services in their home.

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.”

Confirmed: Mary Mohammadi is in Qarchak Prison

Confirmed: Mary Mohammadi is in Qarchak Prison

Article18 can now confirm that Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi is being held in Qarchak detention centre, south of the Iranian capital Tehran.

It is a month today since Mary was arrested, as protests took place in central Tehran following the Iranian government’s admission of guilt in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane.

Since that time, there has been no word from Mary, although last week the Persian-language HRANA news agency reported that she was being held in Qarchak Prison.

At that time, Article18 was unable to verify this, but a reliable source has now confirmed that Mary is indeed being held there and that her bail has been set at 30 million tomans (around $2,250).

Mary’s family have been able to put together the amount, even though it is equivalent to more than the annual salary for Iranians, under the country’s current economic challenges.

However, Article18’s source explained that during the time it took for the family to obtain the amount, “Mary’s case was transferred from the prosecutor’s office to the court, which will now decide whether or not to grant her temporary release from prison”.

Mary has been charged with “disturbing public order by participating in an illegal rally” and provided with a lawyer not of her choosing.

She has been able to call home a few times to reassure her family that she is OK.

As the Iranian government has held celebrations to mark the 41st anniversary of the revolution, the legal system has slowed. With the Iranian New Year (Nowruz) only a month away, it is not clear whether there will be sufficient time for Mary’s family to secure her release before the holidays, or whether she may be forced to remain detained for longer still.

Article18’s advocacy director, Mansour Borji, said that he was “extremely relieved” to know that Mary is OK, and hopes soon to be able to confirm her release – “albeit temporary” – from prison.

Who is Mary Mohammadi?

Mary’s case has captured the world’s attention, with even the US President, Donald Trump, citing her arrest during his recent National Prayer Breakfast speech.

Mary is a rare example of a Christian activist still living in Iran and, prior to her current detention, had already served six months in prison for her Christian activities, for which she was convicted of “action against national security” and “propaganda against the system”.

Last July, Mary faced fresh criminal charges relating to her “improper” wearing of hijab. Those charges, which were eventually quashed, were brought against her after she initially went to police to complain of an assault.

Then in December, Mary was kicked out of her Tehran university, without explanation, on the eve of her English-language exams.

Just a few weeks later, on 12 January, Mary was arrested as protests took place in Azadi Square.

Beaten

HRANA reports that, during her detention, Mary has been beaten so badly – by male and female officers – that the bruises were visible for three weeks.

After her arrest, HRANA reports that she was taken to the Vozara detention centre in Tehran, where she was forced to sit in a yard, for hours, in extremely cold weather and opposite the toilets.

She was then interrogated by three officers, who gave her forms containing 30 questions. Mary refused to answer the questions in the absence of a lawyer.

Mary was not given any food until 24 hours after her arrest and her handcuffs were put on in a cross-shape, making them very uncomfortable.

Mary was also strip-searched twice by female officers, who told her that if she refused to remove her clothes, they would rip them from her.

The next day, she was taken to Evin Court, where she was charged. Her case was then transferred to the General and Criminal Court of Tehran.

Mary is now one of around 2,000 women prisoners in the overcrowded Qarchak Prison, which is considered the worst women’s prison in Iran and has been sanctioned by the US for “gross human rights violations”, including abuse, arbitrary beatings, little drinking water and “creating an environment for rape and murder”, noted Open Doors.


This article was updated on 13 February to include the new information from HRANA.