The brother of an Iranian Christian who met with President Trump at the White House last July has been released from prison along with several other Christians and high-profile international political prisoners in Iran.
Assyrian Christian Dabrina Bet Tamraz confirmed to the Iranian human rights watchdog organization Article 18 that her brother, 35-year-old Ramiel Bet Tamraz, was released three months early from his four-month prison sentence for participating in house churches.
Tamraz’s release comes along with the release of over 85,000 other prisoners serving short-term prison sentences in an attempt by the Iranian regime to combat the spread of the coronavirus in its overcrowded prisons.
Tamraz had been in prison since early January and was released in late February.
“We are very happy and excited that Ramiel is safe and back home. This was a big surprise and a miracle for our family,” Dabrina Bet-Tamraz told Al Arabiya English. “We still pray for those who are in prison, for God's protection over their health.”
As there are over 18,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iran, prisoners in the Islamic Republic have reportedly tested positive for the virus. Those include prisoners at Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, which is known for holding political prisoners.
Many others who gained their freedom in the mass release will only be released for a temporary amount of time before they must go back to prison. But Tamraz will not have to serve the remainder of his time.
An American Navy veteran, Micahel White, who has been wrongfully detained in Iran since 2018 and is serving a 13-year prison sentence, was released on a medical furlough this week. The U.S. State Department announced that he is now in the custody of the Swiss embassy. However, White’s release is conditioned upon him staying in Iran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother of one from London, received a two-week release from Evin Prison.
“We again call on the Iranian government to immediately release on humanitarian grounds Morad Tahbaz, Baquer Namazi, and Siamak Namazi,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “We also ask the regime to honor the commitment it made to work with the United States for the return of Robert Levinson.
Thirty-six-year-old Christian convert Fatemeh Bakhteri was only given a temporary reprieve from prison, Article 18 reports, adding that three other Christian converts were given 36 days’ leave from prison on March 2.
Another convert, who could not be identified by Article 18, was released weeks ahead of schedule on Feb. 26.
Also on Feb. 26, 21-year-old convert Mary Mohammadi was released on bail.
Although Ramiel Bet Tamraz is now free, his parents are still in prison.
His father, Victor Bet Tamraz pastored a Farsi-language Pentecostal Assyrian church that was shut down by authorities in 2009. He is serving a 10-year sentence for “acting against national security” by creating house churches and proselytizing.
Mother, Shamiram Isavi, is serving a five-year prison sentence for similar charges.
Victor Bet Tamraz and Isavi were slated to have another court hearing on Feb. 25. However, it was yet again delayed, according to Article 18. Dabrina Bet Tamraz previously told The Christian Post that her parents’ cases were postponed about five or six times in 2019.
Article 18 reports that four other Iranian Christians — Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammad Reza (Yohan) Omidi, Zaman (Saheb) Fadaei and Nasser Navard Gol Tapeh — have been denied temporary releases even though their requests for retrial have been accepted.
Last week, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, called on Iran to release all political prisoners temporarily. Rehman called it “unfortunate and disturbing” to keep political prisoners during the coronavirus outbreak.
“A number of dual and foreign nationals are at real risk,” Rehman told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.
Iran ranks as the ninth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. Christians in Iran are banned from sharing their faith with non-Christians and from holding church services in Farsi. Christians risk the possibility of arrest just for attending a house church.
During the course of the 2020 World Watch List’s reporting period, at least 169 Christians were arrested in Iran.