The wife of the former Assyrian Pentecostal Church leader in Iran has been sentenced to five years in prison, allegedly for endangering national security. But human rights advocates have said she is being punished for praying with other Christians.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran reported on Monday that Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran handed down earlier in January a five-year sentence to Shamiram Isavi, the wife of Victor Bet Tamraz.
"As far as we know, and based on Mrs. Isavi's own statements, no evidence has been presented in the case to show that she was engaged in spying or disturbing national security. She has denied all the charges," Kiarash Alipour, a spokesman for Article 18, a U.K.-based organization focusing on Christians in Iran, told the group.
"Mrs. Isavi explained during the interrogation that when the Assyrian Pentecostal Church was shut down, she attended home churches and prayed with fellow Christians and discussed the Holy Book," Alipour said. "It's astonishing that a country's national security could be threatened by a gathering of Christian believers."
Officials claimed that Isavi was "acting against national security" through her efforts in organizing house churches, which is not allowed in Iran, as well as attending Christian seminars abroad.
Tamraz was arrested with Isavi and their son, Ramin, along with 12 other Christian converts, back in December 2014 in Tehran. The pastor and two of the converts were given 10-year prison sentences, while another convert was punished with 15 years.
The Iranian government, which in recent months has faced public anti-corruption protests, has not relented in its crackdown on Christians in 2018, continuing with the arrests and punishments it carried out in 2017.
Iranian agencies such as Mohabat News reported in October that believers have also been told by authorities that they will be beaten for their faith in Jesus Christ, or be forced to leave the country.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom named Iran among the five worst countries in the world in August when it comes to blasphemy laws and its treatment of minorities, while Open Doors USA recently listed the Islamic nation at No.10 on its World Watch List.
Bishop Sibo Sarkisian, the Armenian-Orthodox Bishop of Tehran, recently stirred controversy by claiming that Christians "enjoy complete freedom" in Iran.
Sarkisian said last year that Christians are "not being persecuted in any way," and that the only restrictions are on sharing their faith publicly.
Mohabat News responded to the claim by highlighting that evangelism is a biblical mandate for Christians everywhere regardless of denomination, and prohibiting the practice restricts an essential part of the faith.
CHRI pointed out that the challenges for Christians in Iran remain significant, with Judge Ahmadzadeh having sentenced at least 16 converts to prison terms from five to 15 years since March of last year.