Iran releases fraction of Christian prisoners due to coronavirus, still holds others

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Image: Alireza Heydarifard / Unsplash Azadi Tower in Tehran, Iran

Iran’s status as one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak could be the reason for a fragment of good news: Forced by the epidemic, Iran released a few Christian prisoners in a bow to global advocacy for religious freedom.

The temporary freeing of about 85,000 prisoners to slow the spread of COVID-19 included Ramiel Bet Tamraz, an Assyrian Christian serving a four-month sentence for holding illegal church services, according to Christianity Today.

Bet Tamraz was one of seven Christians set free, some on bail.

However, the release — which also freed 10,000 prisoners in advance of this past weekend’s celebration of the Persian new year — did not include four Christians recently granted retrials.

According to Article18, an organization that promotes religious freedom in Iran, the four Iranian Christians being held are Yousef Nadarkhani, 42, Mohammad Reza (Yohan) Omidi, 46, and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaei, 36, and Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh, who is 58 years old and suffers from several health issues, reported FOX News.

Ramiel’s father Victor was the pastor of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church of Tehran until 2009, when it was shut down by the government for holding services in Farsi, the Iranian national language. Arrested in 2014 for conducting services at home, in 2017 he was given a 10-year jail sentence. Released earlier on bail with his wife Shamiram, they are awaiting the outcome of court appeals.

Ramiel’s sister Dabrina has advocated for her family all the way to the White House.

“Raising awareness always helps,” she told CT, prior to her brother’s release. “When the US and international bodies speak out and address persecuted Christians, they have an enormous amount of influence.”

According to the latest annual report of violations against Christians in Iran, 17 believers ended 2019 in prison on account of their faith. Culled from public statistics describing sentences from 4 months to 10 years, the report — released in January and jointly produced by Open Doors, Article 18, Middle East Concern, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide — warned the true number could be much higher.

Open Doors, which ranks Iran No. 9 among the world’s worst persecutors of Christians, reports at least 169 Christians were arrested from November 2018 to October 2019.

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