Today's scheduled sentencing hearing for Shamiran Issavi, Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, and three Christian converts charged for activities related to the practice of their Christian faith was postponed indefinitely this morning in the Iranian Revolutionary Court in Tehran, Iran after the presiding judge failed to appear.
Bet-Tamraz and Issavi are an ethnic Assyrian couple facing lengthy prison sentences for false charges related to “illegal church activities” which “threaten national security." Authorities have cited private Christmas gatherings, organizing and conducting house churches, as well as traveling outside of the country to attend Christian seminars in their cases.
According to a representative for the family, this is the fourth time the hearing has been postponed, and the perpetual state of limbo is having a damaging effect on their mental health.
In July 2019, their daughter Dabrina Bet-Tamraz spoke at the State Department Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, where Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later called for their release. Read her testimony here. She also met with President Donald Trump who stated he would look into their case.
In an August 2018 statement calling for their release, Amnesty International stated: "If imprisoned, they would be prisoners of conscience."
Iran's constitution provides for the protection of religious freedom "within the limits of the law." Christians are one of the few religious minorities officially recognized in the country. However, the constitution provides only limited protection to Christians while Christian converts are provided no protection at all under the law. Consequently, Christians in Iran have been a target of harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, unfair trials, an imprisonment on national security-related charges solely because of their faith. Evangelical Christians in particular are targeted and often detained, charged as threats to national security.
Iran's Christians are categorized as 'ethnic Christians' or 'non-ethnic Christians.' The former includes adherents to traditional patriarchal churches—such as Assyrians and Armenians—while the later primarily constituting protestants and evangelicals, including ethnic Assyrians who adhere to non-traditional denominations. The ethnic churches do not carry out any missionary activities, which has proven critical to their survival, according to Minority Rights Group International.
Bet-Tamraz formerly led the Pentecostal Assyrian Church in Tehran, which was forcibly shut down in March 2009 by the Iranian Ministry of the Interior for offering religious services in the Persian language. Ethnic churches in Iran are solely permitted to conduct services in their own language and are strictly prohibited from offering services in Persian.
The Assyrian Policy Institute continues to call on Iranian authorities to annul the convictions and sentences of Victor Bet-Tamraz, Shamiran Issavi, and others charged, as they have been targeted solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedoms of religion and belief, expression, and association, through their Christian faith; stop the harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and imprisonment of Christians, including converts, in Iran; and respect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt or change a religion or belief of one’s choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.