Iran sentences pastor's wife to 5 years in prison for 'acting against national security'

(Wikimedia Commons/Mike Gadd)The Vank Cathedral in Esfahan, Iran.

An Iranian court has sentenced the wife of the former Assyrian Pentecostal Church leader for allegedly "acting against national security" through her efforts in organizing house churches.

Shamiram Isavi was arrested in her home on Dec. 26, 2014 along with several other Christian converts, including her husband Victor Bet Tamraz and her son Ramin Bet Tamraz.

The Center for Human Rights in Iran reported on Monday that Isavi was charged with "acting against national security" for her efforts in organizing home churches, as well as attending Christian seminars abroad and training Christian leaders in Iran "for the purpose of espionage."

On Jan. 6, Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran found her guilty and sentenced her to five-years in prison.

Some human rights advocates believe that Isavi is being punished for praying with other Christians.

"As far as we know, and based on Mrs. Isavi's own statements, no evidence has been presented in the case to show that she was engaged in spying or disturbing national security. She has denied all the charges," said Kiarash Alipour, a spokesman for Article 18, a UK-based organization focusing on Christians in Iran.

"Mrs. Isavi explained during the interrogation that when the Assyrian Pentecostal Church was shut down, she attended home churches and prayed with fellow Christians and discussed the Holy Book. It's astonishing that a country's national security could be threatened by a gathering of Christian believers," Alipour added.

In June 2016, Ahmadzadeh sentenced Isavi's husband and Christian converts Hadi Asgari and Kavian Fallah Mohammadi to 10 years in prison each, while another convert, Amin Afshar Naderi, received a 15-year prison sentence.

At least 16 Christian converts in Iran have received prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years since March 2017, according to Article 18.

On Dec. 28, the Fourth Chamber of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz handed down seven-year prison sentences to two Christian converts for allegedly forming a group that works against national security and an additional year for "propaganda against the state."

Iran has been designated by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom as one of the five worst countries in the world when it comes to blasphemy laws and treatment of minorities.

In 1975, Iran ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which holds that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion," but the Christian community, particularly the converts, still faces systematic state persecution and discrimination due to its growth. The Islamic Republic reportedly views other belief systems, such as those seeking converts, as a threat to the existing Shia order.

In 2013, President Hassan Rouhani vowed during his election campaign that "[a]ll ethnicities, all religions, even religious minorities, must feel justice." But despite his promise, Christians have been routinely charged with national security-related crimes under his administration.

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