Iranian-Assyrian Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, 66, and his wife Shamiran Issavi, 65, were convicted in July 2017 and January 2018, respectively, of charges related to the practice of their Christian faith, including "illegal church activities" which "threaten national security" in Iran. The cited activities included private Christmas gatherings, organizing and conducting house churches, and traveling outside Iran to attend Christian seminars. Bet Tamraz was sentenced to ten years in prison, while Issavi received a five-year sentence. For more information, click here.
The couple appealed their individual convictions, but their appeal hearings have repeatedly been delayed or canceled over the course of three years for various reasons, including reports of courts being "too crowded." Their latest scheduled appearance, which was to take place on June 1, 2020, was canceled for reasons that are unclear.
On July 19, 2020, Pastor Bet Tamraz was informed that his appeal had been denied, and that no further hearings would be scheduled. Similarly, on August 11, 2020, Issavi received summons to report to Evin Prison in Tehran to begin her prison sentence.
Family members fear for their safety should they be forced to serve, particularly in light of an outbreak of Covid-19 at Evin Prison. If imprisoned, Bet Tamraz and Issavi would be prisoners of conscience.
The prosecution of Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz and Shamiran Issavi has been the subject of intense international scrutiny with calls for clemency from, among others, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a state party, states that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teach” and that persons belonging to religious minorities “shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.” This framework also protects the right to convert from one religion or belief to another without repercussions from the state.
Update (8/19/20): The API can confirm that Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz and his wife Shamiran Issavi, who were sentenced to a combined 15 years in prison in Iran for activities related to the practice of their Christian faith, have fled Iran and are seeking asylum elsewhere. Their daughter Dabrina told the API that they are "safe and well" but does not wish to disclose their current location out of concern for their personal safety. The couple says they will continue to fight the unjust charges from abroad and hope to one day return home.