Iran: An Armenian student, arrested in nationwide demonstration December 2017, faces charges of attempting to form warrior groups against the regime, promoting Christianity and anti-Islamic activities.
(Mohabat News) Karen Vartanian, born Tehran in 1994, is singular and 9th semester student of pharmacy at Arak University. He is one of the Armenian Christians and one of the detainees in the nationwide demonstration.
According to news sources, this student protester was arrested on December 30, 2017, and spent 17 days under the most severe physical and mental torture, so that he lost 15 kilos of weight during the deterrence.
“Karen Vartanian “was summoned to the Revolutionary Court two weeks ago. His trial was held on Tuesday, August 28, 2018, in the presence of him and his lawyer. In the court, he faces charges of insulting and disseminating lies, disturbing the public opinion, attempting to form warrior groups against the regime, promoting Christianity and anti-Islamic activities. Temporary detention was issued to him and the date of the main court was determined. Despite the protests of him and his attorney, they were informed that he would be transferred to the Fashafiyah prison until the trial date.
“Karen Vartanian” has congenital heart disease and had heart surgery in April 2018. Although his family and lawyer asked the judge to bail out due to his heart disease and threat of his life, the judge told them that the bail would not be issued to security detainees at the behest of the judiciary, even if the trial date is one year later.
According to a reliable source, “Karen Vartanian” was beaten by the prison authorities during the transfer from court to the detention center in front of her mother’s and sister’s eyes, and the agent of assassin said falsely to the people present at the site: “The accused has raped several daughters under 18 years old.
After two days of arrestment at a temporary detention center, the arrested student was transferred to the notorious Prison of Fashafiyah in Tehran on Thursday, August 30, 2018.
He suffered a heart attack at the Fashafiyah Prison and was transferred to Rajai Hospital on Sunday, September 2, 2018 with manacle and under guarded care with a plainclothes officer and a soldier. His family could see him only for a few minutes behind the glass, and this short meeting was enough to see the effects of beating on the face, eye and feet of their son. Despite the physician’s advice, that his 3-4-day rest was urgent due to surgery and his severe physical condition, prison authorities did not agree that his treatment continued at the hospital and returned him to prison after an outpatient treatment.
During the detention, Karen Vartanian only had short phone call with his family two times. This Christian family is very concerned about the life threatening and the situation of their son. Despite the continuous follow-up of the family, he was not allowed to visit the family and the judge did not specify the date of his trial./FARSI
Mohabat news_ On August 23, 2018, Amnesty International issued an appeal for urgent action to quash the sentences of the pastor “Victor Bet Tamraz” and his wife “Shamiram Isavi” and the Christian convert “Amin Afshar Naderi” and “Hadi Asghari”.
In the Amnesty International’s appeal, it was stressed that these sentences were issued only due to the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedoms of religion and belief, expression, and association, through their Christian faith.
Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram Issavi, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari, have been sentenced to a total of 45 years in prison on charges of acting against national security and spreading propaganda against the system through evangelism and the formation of house churches.
Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and Shamiram Issavi, ethnic Assyrian Christians, and Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari, Christian converts, have been sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison.
Holding Christmas gatherings, organizing and conducting house churches, and travelling outside Iran to attend Christian seminars, all of them are known as “illegal church activities” which “threaten national security”, and security agencies including Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence, and the Islamic Republic’s judiciary attach these activities to the case, and the judge will issue a verdict based on this attachment.
The four Christian citizens who are all currently free on high bails, are awaiting the verdict of the appeal court.
This case was opened due to the incidents occurred on 26 December 2014, when 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.
On 19 June 2017, Shamiram Issavi was summoned to the Office of the Prosecutor in Evin prison and charged with offences 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.” / FARSI
Mohabat News– On August 23, 2018, Amnesty International appealed to urgent action to quash the sentences issued for the pastor “Victor Bet Tamraz” and his wife “Shamiram Isavi” and the Christian converts “Amin Afshar Naderi” and “Hadi Asghari”. These four Christians have been sentenced to a total of 45 years in prison.
In an interview with Manoto News, Kiarash Alipour, spokesman for the Article 18 organization, in answer to the question, how much such measures can reduce the pressure on Christians in Iran, says: “Despite the government propaganda, the Islamic Republic continues to violate the freedom and rights of religion and belief minorities, and the Christian community in Iran faces the organized and structural discrimination of the government. On the one hand, these measures will be effective in informing the Iranian people and, on the other hand, the international community in putting pressure on the Iranian government to respect the rights of its citizens, and for this reason, I appreciate the Amnesty International”.
He also stated: “Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution recognizes Zoroastrians, Christians and Jews as the only recognized religious minorities, and emphasizes that they are free to perform their religious ceremonies and that they are allowed to live according to their religion. Also, Article 23 of the Constitution states that inquisition is prohibited. The Charter of Citizenship Law, which was published with a lot of advertisings by the government of Hassan Rowhani, emphasizes on this matter, but these citizens were sentenced only due to the use of their own right namely freedom of religion and belief”.
In the answer to the question, why the pressure on Christians has increased recently, Alipour also says: “In the past few years, Christianity has grown dramatically in Iran, and in a religious government that is dominated by theocracy instead of democracy, converting people into other beliefs raises questions about the legitimacy of this system, and thus, such peaceful activities are considered as acts against national security”.
The spokesman for the Article 18 organization described the judicial process for Christian converts’ case as “very bad and unfair” and also said: “For example, these four Christians were under pressure over interrogations and had very short trials, and in general we saw cases that were unbelievable. Once a while they attacked on a Christian’s house, and seized the Christmas tree as instrument of crime and the carpet beneath it and Christian paintings including the Last Super which was also found in Iranian market”.
At the end, he pointed to the arbitrary detentions and a security approach to religious minorities, and said: “Heavy prison sentences, denial of education, pressure on families of overseas Christians, as well as exile, have been indicative of increased pressure on Christians in Iran./FARSI
“interrogations were obviously indicating that they were looking for the accused’s confession to communication with abroad, especially America, Britain and Israel.”
Mohabat News– the Christian convert, “Payam Kharaman”, has been sentenced to one year in prison on charge of propaganda activities against the system and in favor of Zionist Christianity through holding house meetings, evangelism, and invitation to Christianity and inclination to the land of Christianity. This Christian convert was among 12 citizens who were arrested in Bushehr (on Tuesday, April 7, 2015).
The cases of these 12 individuals with similar accusations have been under review until late April, 2018 while they were released on bail.
According to the verdict issued by Islamic Revolutionary Court of Bushehr headed by Judge Abbas Asgari, Payam Khoraman and 11 other individuals including “Shapour Jozi” and his wife, “Parastoo Zariftash” were sentenced to one year in prison, and they would be informed of the verdict on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.
The Christian convert, “Payam Kharaman” says to Mohabat News in detail about the case: on Tuesday, April 7, 2015, at around 8 A.M. – 8:30 A.M., 3 plain-clothed security agents came to the house, entered with a warrant, and rummaged throughout the house for 2 hours, and after inspection, seized computer case, mobile phone, flash memory, CDs, books and pamphlets and even private photo album, and transported me to the intelligence office of Bushehr near Bisim Avenue, and they started interrogating me from the first hours of my arrival in prison and continued until the evening of that day.
One of the special terms cited in the case of these 12 Christian converts is “inclination to the land of Christianity”, which is less common. Payam Khoraman says: interrogations were obviously indicating that they were looking for the accused’s confession to communication with abroad, especially America, Britain and Israel, and this term has originated from this matter.
He said: “the pressure and harassment of the security forces on me began in early 2012, and I was repeatedly summoned by the Office of Police Monitor Public Place in Bushehr and interrogated about evangelism and communication with abroad, and I always insisted on the belief in Christianity for myself and not for promotion of Christianity. Because I had a boutique shop in Bushehr, a number of officers’ family members in the office knew me and informed of heavy sentences against me, and the case which was under investigation by intelligence office. I thought it was just an empty threat, but unfortunately became a serious issue one or two years later.”
Advocacy director of Article 18, Mansour Borji introduced the charges attributed to these Christian converts and the process of judicial review on their cases “as example of inquisition and the violation of the freedom of religion and belief”, and he added: “Security agencies, following an ineffective policy in recent years, have tried to eliminate Farsi-speaking Christianity through unlawful pressures and false accusations in revolutionary courts and seemingly legal route.”
While corruption, theft and embezzlement of senior government officials and their relatives are the greatest problem in the country, and judicial systems infected with the corruption do not have the ability to fight against these problems, the harassment of religious minorities particularly Christians have been mandated for the Islamic Republic’s security apparatuses. Many Iranian Christians have preferred to abandon their homes in the last two decades and leave Iran to avoid the securities and judges. / FARSI
(Morning Star News) – Three Christians in Iran were arrested from their homes following the violent arrest of pastor Yousef Nadarkhani on Sunday (July 22), according to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
Pastor Nadarkhani, a convert from Islam like the others arrested, was awaiting a summons to begin a 10-year prison sentence after his appeal of a conviction for “propagating house churches” and promoting “Zionist Christianity” was upheld in May.
“Around 10 police officers arrived at the house and physically assaulted Yousef’s son when he opened the door to them,” MEC reported. “Both Yousef and his son were tasered, despite offering no resistance. The manner of their arrest was probably an attempt to intimidate the Christian community, but their friends report that the church has not given in to fear.”
Pastor Nadarkhani was sentenced on July 6, 2017, along with fellow converts from Islam Yasser Mossayebzadeh, Mohammadreza Omidi and Saheb Fadaie. Mossayebzadeh was arrested from his home today, and Omidi and Fadaie were arrested from their homes yesterday evening (July 24), according to MEC.
Pastor Nadarkhani ad Omidi were also sentenced to two years of internal exile, according to MEC.
“Both will serve this sentence in the south of Iran, far away from their families in Rasht,” the group reported in a press statement.
The three Christians arrested today and yesterday have been taken to Evin Prison in Tehran to join Pastor Nadarkhani, who has been put in a “quarantine” ward normally reserved as a form of punishment, according to MEC.
“Please pray that the Lord will comfort and strengthen those arrested and their families and that the Christian community in Iran will trust the Lord and not be intimidated,” MEC’s statement read, also requesting prayer that “Iranian authorities will treat converts and other religious minorities with respect, and that they and their families will not be wrongly and aggressively handled.”
The four Christians were arrested in Rasht on May 13, 2016 during a series of raids by security agents on Christian homes, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). They were sentenced by Judge Ahmadzadeh, head judge of the 26th Branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran, who is accused of miscarriages of justice and is subject to financial sanctions in the United Kingdom, according to CSW.
“Their appeal hearing on 13 December 2017 took place before Judge Hassan Babaee and Judge Ahmad Zargar, both of whom are alleged to have played prominent roles in the crackdown on freedom of expression in Iran,” CSW said in a press statement.
Judge Zargar, a Hojjatolislam (clerical position immediately below an ayatollah), was among several Iranian officials deemed responsible or complicit in serious human rights violations in 2012, according to CSW. He was also one of six judges accused in 2014 of lacking judicial impartiality and overseeing unjust trials of journalists, lawyers, political activists and members of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities, the group reported.
“The national security charges leveled against these men were spurious, and their sentences are excessive, amounting to a criminalization of Christian practice,” CSW Chief Operating Officer Scot Bower said in the press statement. “We are calling for the unconditional release of Pastor Nadarkhani, and for his sentence and those of Mr. Omidi, Mr. Mossayebzadeh and Mr. Fadaie to be quashed.”
Pastor Nardarkhani was also arrested in 2009 after going to his children’s school to question Islam’s exclusive place in religious education for children, which he said was unconstitutional. He was charged with apostasy and sentenced to death in 2010, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011.
On Sept. 8, 2012, he was released from prison following his acquittal on apostasy charges but was found guilty on charges of evangelizing. He returned to prison on Dec. 25, 2012 to complete a three-year sentence for evangelism and was released on Jan 7, 2013.
Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to change one’s religion and the freedom of religion. Furthermore, Article 23 of the Iranian Constitution states that “the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”
Iran ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
United States President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday, May 8th that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Trump called the deal “defective at its core” and vowed to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran.
Mohabat News _ International reactions have been strong and varied. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson expressed their commitment to still try to keep the Iran nuclear deal afloat and even attempted to convince Trump not to pull out of the deal signed by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s decision to pull the US from the Iran nuclear deal. In a presentation on Monday, Netanyahu said Iran had lied about its nuclear ambitions and secretly still had plans to build atomic warheads.
Mike Ansari with Heart4Iran says, as a pattern, “Iran definitely does break the rules. Iran is one of those rowdy boys that sits at the table and promises all different things and then breaks it because they really want to have influence in the region.”
The fallout of US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal is still ongoing. However, a few effects are already projected to occur.
“The repercussions of what would come out of that would affect potentially the Iranian government in increasing and hiking the price of petroleum which would, at the end of the day, affect the amount of money each one of us in the West pays out of pocket for filling up our gas tanks,” explains Ansari.
“Beyond that, there is a lot of political repercussion. Geographically in the Middle East, in the neighboring countries, Iran has a lot of influence over Yemen still, in Syria fighting ISIS, in Lebanon, and in other areas. So Iran is definitely going to maintain a posture of strength and defy anything that would jeopardize its current position and status in this deal.”
Additionally, there will likely be negative effects within the country of Iran. Minorities and Christians in Iran are often used as scapegoats, accused of sabotaging Iranian interests and spying for the West.
“We have seen repeatedly in the past that whenever international sanctions are put on Iran, the Iranian government usually turns up the heat on its minority — on the Baha’is, on the Christians, on the Jewish population — and they use them as a scapegoat to lash out on them. It becomes a specifically difficult time for the Christian population in Iran.”
The combination of the broken nuclear deal and approaching Ramadan means hostilities towards Christians could increase, Ansari said. “As the Body of Christ, I would urge all of us to continue to keep the Christians and the minorities, the Baha’is and other minorities in Iran in prayer so that God’s glory will be seen.”
He also adds, “I would ask the Body of Christ, the other believers across the world to come together and pray for the Church to be rebuilt in that region. It was a Church that was once very powerful and had a lot of influence. So let us pray that God would restore His Church as He is doing to the fullness of His glory.”/MNN online
Qom, arguably the most Islamic city in Iran, is a socially and religiously conflicted city where house churches are hunted down and conversion to Christianity is viewed as an action against national security.
Mohabat News reports Christianity has been growing at an exponential rate in the last couple of decades in Iran, causing the Islamic government a great deal of concern. In a most recent expression of their distress, one of the high profile Islamic seminary officials, Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, stated “accurate reports indicate that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches”.
However, this is not a new development. Earlier reports had also shown a surprising rise in the number of Iranians turning away from Islam and converting to Christianity.
One of the most senior Islamic Shi’ite clerics who has repeatedly expressed his concern over the spread of Christianity among the youth in the country is Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. He, as well as most of his colleagues blame the foreign influence for the conversion of young Iranians to Christianity. The question that comes up however, is that what could be the real cause for Iranian youths’ rejection of Islam and its principles, despite the serious risks involved with conversion to Christianity in an Islamic country such as Iran?
This high rate of conversion of Iranian youth to Christianity is in spite of rigorous Islamic indoctrination of the youth in their families and educational system. The Islamic government of Iran dedicates massive budgets to the support of Islamic organizations that promote Islam among the youth within and without Iran’s borders. Such efforts to attract Iranian youth is much more noticeable in Islamic cities such as Mashhad and Qom. Regardless of such efforts, Iranian youth seem to become increasingly distant from Islam, which is a cause of great concern for the Iranian Islamic government.
Last year, after Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi expressed his deepest concern over the popularity of Christianity in the suburbs of Mashhad, the city’s religious and political officials immediately sent a vast number of Islamic teachers and preachers to Mashhad’s suburbs in order to turn the youth away from Christianity. The next phase in dealing with this matter was to crack down on the youth who refused to turn back following the efforts of Islamic teachers and preachers. The Iranian law enforcement and intelligence ministry got involved and began waves of arrests and harassment of Christian converts, facing them with long term prison sentences and heavy bails for their temporary release.
Another Iranian Ayatollah, Wahid Khorasani expressed concerns over the spread of Christianity in the country. He said he had received reports about the exponential increase in popularity of Christianity amongst the youth in the Islamic city of Qom. He criticized government authorities “for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity. In his remarks eight years ago, he had encouraged the government authorities to develop a coherent strategy to eradicate Christianity in Iran.
Another Ayatollah, based in Tabriz, stated he had received reports that at one time, 600 residents of one of the cities in Khorasan province had converted to Christianity.
These harsh remarks years ago, led to a rigorous crackdown campaign against the Iranian Christian community, resulting in arrests, imprisonments and disbanding of a number of house church gatherings.
— Failure of Islamic Authorities’ Efforts to Stop the Spread of Christianity
The Iranian Islamic government implemented a two fold plan to stop the spread of Christianity in the country, and it has failed on both fronts.
The first front was the allocation of millions of dollars for Islamic propaganda across the country, which over the years has proven to be ineffective as Iranian youth seem to be distancing themselves from the Islamic lifestyle the Iranian government wishes to spread.
The second front, in which the Iranian government’s Islamic agenda has failed is their crackdown campaign on newly converted Christians in order to plant fear in those who are interested in learning more about Christianity and possibly becoming Christians themselves. This failure is obvious as Iranian Islamic authorities continue to express their concern over the rapid growth of Christianity in the country.
In recent years many Iranian Christian converts have been arrested. However, the rate of growth of house churches in the country has been exponential, despite a mass exodus of Iranian Christians.
In this regard, Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, one of the high profile Iranian Islamic figures, wrote in a paper a few years ago, “There was a time when Islamic institutions in Qom were sufficient to counter the spread of Christianity in our city. However, today we do not have any Islamic institution in Qom that can stop Christian evangelism effectively”. In his remarks he also referred to the son of one of the Islamic clerics as having become a Christian.
In a report released seven years ago, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards identified 200 house churches in the Islamic city of Mashhad. Other reports indicate this number has grown significantly ever since. Mashhad is known as the Islamic capital of Iran and the Shi’ite Muslim world. Other cities having a record number of house churches in Iran include Rasht, Tehran and Karaj.
In Tehran there are many house churches that meet on a regular basis. One of Tehran’s Imams said in an interview, “today Christians present their gospel to our youth in the most appealing way. They gather in many neighbourhoods across the city, including Bani Hashem neighbourhood (in Tehran) where tens of homes have been turned into house churches which evangelize their neighbours”.
One of the visible effects of the Iranian government’s crackdown on Christians has been the closure of numerous churches, including the Central Assemblies of God (AOG) church and Janat Abad church in Tehran and the AOG church in Ahwaz. Additionally, Christian converts were banned from entering official churches and Farsi services were forced to cancel permanently across the country in all churches. Publication of anything related to Christianity or any material referring to Christianity was also restricted and books about Christianity already in the market were confiscated./ Farsi
Mohabat News — Iranian Christian prisoner, Mr. Naser Navard-Goltapeh’s family have expressed their growing concern over his health as he is suffering from a severe case of gum infection which requires immediate medical attention.
One of his family members told Article 18 ministries in an interview, “if he does not receive immediate medical attention we are afraid he might lose all of his teeth.”
Mr. Navard-Goltapeh was admitted to the notorious Evin prison on January 20, 2018 to serve his 10 year sentence and is currently being held in ward 8 of the prison.
Mr. Navard-Goltapeh was arrested on June 24, 2016 in a private gathering with three believers from Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani believers arrested were identified as Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov, members of the “Word of Life” church in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. All those arrested were held in solitary confinement for two months as they went through intense interrogation. They were all eventually convicted in court for “illegal gathering and collusion against the Islamic regime through evangelism”.
All four Christians, including Naser Navard-Goltapeh, were temporarily released on a heavy bail (approx. 35,000 USD) after four months in jail. All three Azerbaijani Christians forfeited their bail and returned to their own country, Azerbaijan, immediately after their release.
Naser Navard-Goltapeh, however, stayed in Iran and waited to appear in court where he was found guilty in branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court.
Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh sentenced him to 10 years in prison for “Action against national security and establishing house churches”. The judge based his ruling on evidences produced by the Ministry of Intelligence. None of the referenced evidence was presented during the court session or given to Mr. Navard-Goltapeh’s attorney to review.
Mr. Navard-Goltapeh appealed the sentence. However, an appeals court upheld the 10 year term on November 12, 2017, making it final./ FARSI