International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on August 15, 2020, Iranian-Assyrian Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and his wife Shamiram Issavi fled the country. Just four days prior, Shamiram received an official summons to report to Evin Prison. This summons occurred after the couple lost their appeal before the courts. Pastor Victor was appealing a 10-year prison sentence, and Shamiram was appealing a five-year prison sentence. The appeal process took over two years because of multiple rescheduling delays.
Iran claims to protect religious freedom, citing constitutional protections that only apply for citizens who can prove they were Christians before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, such as Assyrians and Armenians. However, this case demonstrates the government's relentless pursuit of all Christians. It also highlights their policy of ignoring any legal obligations regarding religious freedom.
The Bet-Tamraz family expressed regret over leaving their home in Iran. However, Pastor Victor and Shamiram are both in their 60s. Given the notoriously harsh conditions of Evin Prison, made worse by COVID-19, a decision was made to flee from Iran for the sake of their health.
Judge Ahmed Zargar played an influential role in the outcome of their appeal. As an appellate judge, Zargar's courts frequently represent the last hope for Iranian Christians hoping to have their sentence overturned or reduced. Rather than intervening to protect religious freedom, Zargar upholds and validates human rights violations committed by the authorities.
In February 2019, ICC submitted a request to the United States Treasury to consider Zargar for Global Magnitsky sanctions.
Iran is recommended as a Country of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Iran also rates in ninth place on Open Doors' World Watch List, which details countries with the most severe religious freedom abuses towards Christians.
Claire Evans, ICC's Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "Iran's government has made it clear that it has no respect for religious freedom, nor the dignity of human life. Leaving one's home is an incredibly painful process, and not one that is taken lightly. While we are glad that Pastor Victor and his wife Shamiram are safe, we are also saddened by the circumstances which compelled them to leave."
She continued, "We also must remember that the Iranian government is not the same as the Iranian people. The authorities want to dictate the conscience of every citizen, and that does not sit well with many Iranians. Every human rights violation committed by the government is a violation felt in some way across the entire country. We keep Iran in our prayers, as well as the Bet-Tamraz family, that they may find peace, safety, security, and freedom of conscience."