An Iranian pastor and his wife have fled the country after their appeals of yearslong prison sentences related to their involvement in a house church and evangelism were denied.
The Iranian human rights monitoring watchdog organization Article 18 reported Wednesday that Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and his wife, Shamiram Isavi, fled the Islamic Republic instead of turning themselves in to face a combined 15 years in prison.
The couple’s daughter, Dabrina, who met with President Donald Trump last year to advocate for her family members, confirmed that her parents have departed Iran. While she could not disclose their location, she assured Article 18 that they are “safe and well.”
Dabrina Bet Tamraz, who left Iran in the early 2010s, said her parents, who are in their mid-60s, plan to continue fighting their legal battle against Iranian authorities. The couple is determined to return to their home country should the Iranian court overturn their sentences.
“We continue to pray and hope for their sentences to be dropped,” the daughter said. “We pray for justice both for my parents and for all the believers suffering in prisons.”
Last month, Pastor Tamraz was informed that the appeal of his 10-year sentence for acting against national security by conducting house church meetings was denied and that he could no longer appeal the sentence he was given in 2017.
It is believed that Isavi also lost her appeal as she was ordered earlier this month to report to Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, where the regime is known to detain prisoners of conscience and political prisoners.
Isavi was sentenced to five years in prison in 2018 on charges of “membership of a group with the purpose of disrupting national security” and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security.”
The charges brought against the couple have been condemned by human rights activists, as well as Vice President Mike Pence.
The couple’s son, Ramiel, was released from prison earlier this year after being sentenced to four months for participating in house churches.
“In 2009, Iranian authorities shut down Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz’s church. But instead of fleeing the country, he continued to share the Good News,” Pence said during a speech at the U.S. State Department’s 2019 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. “Pastor Bet Tamraz and his family are an inspiration to freedom-loving people the world over.”
Tamraz is the pastor of a Pentecostal congregation in Tehran. In 2009, authorities forced him to shut down the church because he refused to only allow Assyrian-speaking people to be members of the congregation.
In Iran, it is illegal to operate a church in the country’s most common language of Farsi.
In 2014, Tamraz was arrested during a Christmas celebration along with two Christian converts — Amin Afshar-Naderi and Kavian Fallah-Mohammadi — all of whom spent 65 days in solitary confinement and were eventually released on bail.
The two converts were sentenced along with the pastor and a third convert named Hadi Asgari. Afshar-Naderi received a 15-year sentence while Asgari and Fallah-Mohammadi were sentenced to 10 years.
Article 18, a London-based nonprofit that raises awareness of religious freedom issues in Iran, confirmed that lawyers have notified all three converts that their appeals have been rejected.
In Iran, it is illegal for Christians to share the Gospel with Muslims. Open Doors USA, a global persecution watchdog organization, ranks Iran as the ninth-worst county when it comes to Christian persecution on its annual World Watch List.
That ranking comes as several house-churches were raided in the World Watch List 2020 reporting period — Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2019. During that period, Open Doors reports that at least 169 Christians were arrested in Iran.