By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN/LONDON (BosNewsLife)-- Advocacy group Amnesty International (AI) says four Iranians have been sentenced in Iran to a combined total of 45 years in prison “solely for practicing their Christian faith” and has launched an Urgent Action for their release.
In a statement obtained by BosNewsLife, AI urges Iran’s hardline Islamic government to “quash the convictions and sentences" of Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram Issavi, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari who it claims face prosecution after attending Christmas gatherings and organizing house churches. "If imprisoned, they would be prisoners of conscience," the group warned. All four are currently free but only on bail and await the outcome of their appeals, according to Christians familiar with their situation.
Amnesty investigators said Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and Shamiram Issavi, ethnic Assyrian Christians, and Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari, Christian converts from Islam received between five and 15 years in prison. "They have been targeted solely for peacefully practicing their Christian faith."
The authorities reportedly cited peaceful activities such as holding private Christmas gatherings, organizing and conducting house churches, and traveling outside Iran to attend Christian seminars, as “illegal church activities” which “threaten national security” to justify their convictions.
The troubles began around Christmas on December 26, 2014, when Victor Bet-Tamraz was detained with Amin Afshar-Naderi and one other individual after plain-clothed security forces raided his home in Tehran, the capital, during a private Christmas gathering, according to rights activists.
They were taken to Tehran’s harsh Evin prison where they had reportedly no access to their lawyers and little contact with their families. The group was released on bail several months later. But last year in May they were put on trial with Hadi Asgari, who was detained in another incident on August 26, 2016, in the city of Firuzkuh in Tehran Province.
In July 2017, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced each of them to 10 years in prison on the charge of “forming a group composed of more than two people with the purpose of disrupting national security” with their church activities.
The same court sentenced Amin Afshar-Naderi to a further five years in prison for “insulting Islamic sanctities” for a comical Facebook post he shared from someone else’s account that adopted a Koranic writing style about the sharp rise in the price of chicken in Iran, trial observers said.
Hadi Asgari was freed on bail in April 2018. On 19 June 2017, Shamiram Issavi was summoned to the Office of the Prosecutor in Evin prison and charged with offenses related to her practicing her Christian faith.
In January 2018, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced her to five years in prison for “membership of a group with the purpose of disrupting national security” and another five years in prison for “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security,” AI confirmed.
AI urged its supporters to "Please write immediately in English, Persian, or your language calling on the Iranian authorities to: Quash the convictions and sentences of Victor Bet-Tamraz, Shamiram Issavi, Amin Afshar-Naderi, and Hadi Asgari, 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."
Additionally; it said, authorities should "Stop the harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and imprisonment of Christians, including converts, in Iran."
Tehran should also "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,"
the group added.
Despite reported hardships, Christianity continues to spread in the strict Islamic nation with many converts meeting in "illegal" house churches, church groups say.