Iran’s Christians face renewed fears ahead of Christmas

Dec 18, 2020

In 2009, Iran began a crackdown on its religious community that led to the arrest of Dabrina Bet Tamraz. The government eventually shuttered her family’s Assyrian Pentecostal church.

Today, Evangelical and Protestant Christians in the country are largely restricted in worship, and the pressure to remain silent is only increasing.

In 2014, the Tamraz home in Tehran was raided by Iranian intelligence officers. Her father, Victor, was taken and held in solitary confinement for 65 days. By 2017, he was formally convicted on charges of illegal church activities and threatening national security. A year later, Dabrina’s mother, Shamiran, was also convicted of attending seminaries abroad and teaching spies against Iran.

“We call [the charges] a salad,” Dabrina said. “Interrogators put in as many accusations as they can and then finally out of them you get maybe two, three or maximum four.”

This July, after a drawn-out and often turbulent appeals process that has seen even judges and lawyers in the case arrested, Victor and his wife’s appeals were denied and they were each sentenced to prison.

The couple has since fled the country and are now in hiding.

The regime has claimed to support religious groups in the past. In December 2016, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani released a charter that promised recognition of all religious identities without discrimination. However, global monitors argued the language provided no specific enforcement guarantees, and some religious minorities said this charter was only in rhetoric.

As we near the celebration of Christmas, there is renewed concern over the safety of Christians in the country as security forces routinely drum up charges leading up to the holiday.

In 2018, 150 Christians were taken between November and December alone, including 114 arrests during the first week of December, according to a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Last June, amid an escalating “maximum pressure” campaign by Washington that has seen a slew of sanctions slapped against the regime, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the regime’s crackdown against Christian and other religious minorities “continues to shock the conscience.” 

Today, Dabrina worries about Christians in the country, including her own brother, who was taken a few years ago and recently released due to prison overcrowding.

“We think most of the refugees or people who leave the country, they leave because they want a better life. I believe in the case of my parents and some Assyrians, they leave the country because they are forced to, not because they want to,” she said. “Iran is a beautiful country, it is our home … they were forced out of their country.”

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