FoRB on the Frontlines: “We were ready for one of the family to be killed”

Dabrina Bet-Tamraz is an Iranian Christian human rights defender who currently resides in exile in Europe. In her home country, her entire family faces intense pressure from the Iranian government; her father, mother and brother have been charged with national security-related crimes for participating in everyday religious activities.

Dabrina has dedicated her life to advocating for her family and others like them facing persecution in Iran. She has raised their cases at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, as well as with President Donald Trump when she attended the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in the USA. In this interview she sheds light on her experiences as a young Christian in Iran, and on the current situation for her family and other Christians in the country.

“Growing up as a Christian in Iran, it was always obvious we were treated differently. Until I was about ten, the church experienced a decade of severe persecution. Pastors were being killed, churches were under massive pressure, and my parents were regularly taken in for interrogation.

When I was a teenager we were constantly under surveillance; we were bugged and there were spies in the church. It began to make us question everything everyone says. We didn’t know who we could trust.

We were ready for one of the family to be killed. We knew it was a possibility and we discussed what would happen if one of my parents was killed, and what we would do. We were emotionally prepared.

In 2009 our church was closed. I was interrogated and imprisoned – charged with the usual ‘national security crimes.’ My father could get me out of Iran, and we decided it was best for me to leave the country. My parents could have fled the country as well, but they decided to stay and face the challenges. Over the past ten years the persecution has grown even worse.

Today my brother Ramiel is in Evin prison in Tehran. In January 2020 he was summoned to serve a four-month sentence for ‘actions against national security.’ He was arrested with four other Christians in summer 2016 as they picnicked together. (Editor’s note: Ramiel Bet-Tamraz was released from prison a few days early on 26 February, amidst concerns about the speed with which the Coronavirus was spreading inside Iran’s prison system.)

If he was a criminal and had done something wrong we’d understand it, but just for having a picnic with other Christians? It’s unjust.

Ramiel told me there are so many other Christians in prison with him – it’s like being surrounded by family!

Dabrina’s mother and father

My father has been sentenced to ten years in prison for ‘conducting evangelism’ and ‘illegal house church activities’, and my mother has also been given a ten-year sentence for ‘acting against national security’.

They are at home on bail at the moment, but have their final appeal hearing at the end of February. (Editor’s note: At the time of writing, Ms Bet-Tamraz’s parent’s final appeal hearing has been postponed due to a procedural error by the court.)

We’re not very hopeful their sentences will be dropped. They cannot go to church – there is no free Protestant church left in the country – so they have meetings at home. They are doing well considering the circumstances, but it is physically, emotionally and spiritually difficult for them. Both of them have suffered with medical conditions.

Christians in Iran are standing firm. Even though they are persecuted, threatened and tortured, they aren’t afraid to stand for their faith, but they still need our support.

The prayers, advocacy and financial support of members of the international community make it possible for Christians in Iran to keep going – that’s what motivates me to do what I do.

I would like to return to Iran one day. I know it won’t be the same, I’ve lost my roots, my home. I know I won’t be able to be rooted properly there, but I know I won’t be properly rooted here in Europe either.

So one day I want to go home.”


VIDEO: FoRB on the Frontlines in Vietnam, an interview with Nguyen Van Dai

Nguyen Van Dai is a Vietnamese human rights lawyer who has provided legal advice and representation to victims of human rights abuses, including victims of violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), across Vietnam. His work has led to him being repeatedly harassed and attacked by individuals working for the authorities.

Dai spent four years in prison from May 2007 to March 2011, followed by a further four years under house arrest. In December 2015, just months after Dai had completed his house arrest sentence, he and his colleague were taken into police custody once again as he was preparing to meet European Union representatives who were in Hanoi for the annual EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue.

Dai subsequently spent a further two and a half years in prison before being released to exile Germany in June 2018. Last year he visited the UK and told CSW his story in his own words. Watch the video below:

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Cuba y la libertad de religión o creencias: una entrevista con Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre

Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre es un defensor de la Libertad de Religión quién fue detenido arbitrariamente el 12 de julio por agentes de seguridad del estado después de abandonar la sede de las Damas de Blanco en La Habana, donde había estado documentando violaciones de la libertad de religión o de creencias (LdRC). Pasó una semana detenido, durante los primeros cuatro días fue completamente incomunicado y no podía contactar su familia o amigos.

El 19 de julio Ricardo fue liberado. En esta entrevista habla de su experiencia, y explico por qué va a seguir defendiendo la LdRC a pesar de su encarcelamiento reciente.

Click here to read this post in English.

“El trabajo de los defensores de la Libertad de Religión y creencias en Cuba (LdRC) es un camino largo, que pasa por las desilusiones (cuando los afectados se niegan a denunciar) y por la represión gubernamental, cuando la policía política persigue, acosa, hostiga y encarcela a los que tratan de hacer valer los derechos humanos. Pero al final del camino está el agradecimiento sincero de los que vieron sus casos resueltos y la convicción profunda de que Dios respalda cada paso que damos llevando esperanzas, como ovejas en medio de lobos (Evangelio de Mateo 10:16).

LEE MÁS

FoRB on the Frontlines: Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre

Ricardo Fernández Izaguirre is a Cuban religious freedom defender who was arbitrarily detained on Friday 12 July by state security agents after leaving the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana where he had been documenting violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). He spent a week in detention, the first four days of which he was completely incommunicado and unable to make or receive contact from family or friends.

On 19 July Ricardo was released. In this interview he details his experience, and explains why he will continue to stand up for FoRB in Cuba despite his recent imprisonment.

Haz clic aquí para leer este blog en español

“The work of defenders of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba is a long road which includes disappointments (when victims refuse to report their experiences) and government repression, as political police persecute, attack, harass, and imprison those who try to uphold human rights. But the sincere gratitude of those who see their cases resolved, and the profound conviction that God supports every step we take, bringing hope, like sheep surrounded by wolves (Matthew 10:16) is what can be found at the end of this road.

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Quick read: Hong Kong protests – an interview with a Chinese pastor

In recent weeks Hong Kong has seen unprecedented protests in which over one million demonstrators have taken to the streets to protest a controversial extradition bill that would allow the extradition of suspected criminals to Mainland China. On 9 July the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, declared that the bill was ‘dead,’ however some protesters remain concerned that the bill is still on the official agenda and has not been formally withdrawn.

Near the beginning of the protests CSW spoke with a Chinese pastor who explained the main concerns regarding the bill, and what the bill may indicate about the general direction for freedom of religion or belief in Hong Kong.

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