Human rights groups slam Iran for prison terms of Christians and Dervishes

“Stop the harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and imprisonment of Christians, including converts, in Iran,”

An Iranian Christian woman looks at a Christmas tree at a shop in central Tehran December 23, 2015 (photo credit: RAHEB HOMAVANDI/TIMA VIA REUTERS)
An Iranian Christian woman looks at a Christmas tree at a shop in central Tehran December 23, 2015
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch blasted the Islamic Republic of Iran for its sweeping violent crackdown on Christians and Dervishes, including imposing lengthy prison terms on the members of the religious minority groups.
The London-based Amnesty International wrote on August 24 that Iran’s regime should “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.”
Amnesty said that “Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and Shamiram Issavi, ethnic Assyrian Christians, and Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari, Christian converts, have been sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison. They have been targeted solely for peacefully practicing their Christian faith. The authorities have 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’ in order justify their convictions. The individuals, who are all currently free on bail, are awaiting the verdict of the appeal court.”
“Stop the harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and imprisonment of Christians, including converts, in Iran,” wrote Amnesty in its statement.
Amnesty noted, “On 26 December 2014, Victor Bet-Tamraz, was arrested with Amin Afshar-Naderi and one other individual after plain-clothed security forces raided his home in Tehran during a private Christmas gathering. They were taken to Tehran’s Evin prison where they had no access to their lawyers and little contact with their families. They were released on bail several months later. On 21 May 2017, they were put on trial with Hadi Asgari, who had been arrested in a separate incident on 26 August 2016 in the city of Firuzkuh, 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’ in relation to 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 Quranic writing style about the sharp rise in the price of chicken in Iran. Hadi Asgari was released on bail in April 2018,” wrote Amnesty.
The European Union, according to Iran experts, appears to be prioritizing the preservation of the Iran nuclear deal over human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic. The US withdrew from the atomic agreement in May and the EU seeks to retain the deal.
Tzvi Kahn, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in a policy article titled “The EU’s Passivity on Iran’s Human Rights Abuses,” that, “Whereas the Trump administration has issued fresh sanctions against 17 [Iranian] human rights abusers to date, the EU has imposed no new human rights sanctions since the 2015 nuclear deal. While Washington has repeatedly voiced robust support for Iran’s ongoing protests, the EU has offered only mild, and intermittent, expressions of solidarity.”
The New York City-based Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday, “Since May 2018, revolutionary courts have sentenced at least 208 members of the religious minority to prison terms and other punishments in trials that violate their basic rights. The authorities detained more than 300 community members in the notorious Fashafuyeh and Qarchack prisons after late February protests that included violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Tehran.”
Iran’s courts imposed punishments “that include prison terms ranging from four months to 26 years, flogging, internal exile, travel bans, and a ban on membership in social and political groups. Flogging as punishment is recognized under international human rights law as a form of torture,” wrote Human Rights Watch.
“The unjust trials of over 200 Dervishes is one of the largest crackdowns against a religious minority in Iran in a decade,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities have used the February protests as an excuse to intimidate this vulnerable group and silence another segment of Iranian society demanding basic rights from a repressive security state.”
“The sentencing of more than 200 Dervish community members in violation of their fair trial rights is the latest reminder of the way the Iranian authorities’ repressive security apparatus preys on their own citizens every day,” Whitson said.
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.