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Human rights groups criticise Iran for abuse of religious minorities

Amnesty International wrote on August 24 that the Iranian Regime should quash the convictions and sentences of four Christians (Victor Bet-Tamraz, Shamiram Issavi, Amin Afshar-Naderi, and Hadi Asgari) who were sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison for peacefully practising their religion.

The London-based group wrote: “The authorities have cited peaceful activities such as holding private Christmas gatherings, organizing and conducting house churches, and travelling outside Iran to attend Christian seminars, as ‘illegal church activities’ which ‘threaten national security’ in order justify their convictions… Stop the harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and imprisonment of Christians, including converts, in Iran.”

Bet-Tamraz and Afshar-Naderi were arrested on December 26, 2014, along with one other individual, after plain-clothes agents of the Regime raided Bet-Tamraz’s Tehran home during a private Christmas gathering.

The trio was taken to Evin prison and denied access to a lawyer, while contact with their families was severely restricted. Several months later, they were released on bail.

In May 2017, they were put on trial with Asgari, who had been arrested the previous August. In July 2017, all three of them were charged with ‘forming a group composed of more than two people with the purpose of disrupting national security’ and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In April 2018, Afshar-Naderi was sentenced to a further five years for sharing a comical Facebook post about the sharp rise in the price of chicken in Iran.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said that at least 208 Dervishes have been sentenced to prison for up to 26 years or given other punishments, while over 300 have been detained, for protesting against the Regime in February.

These punishments can range from flogging, which is recognized as a form of torture under international law, internal exile, travel bans, and a ban on membership in social and political groups.

Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The unjust trials of over 200 Dervishes is one of the largest crackdowns against a religious minority in Iran in a decade. 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.”

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