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.”


Un Tema lingüístico: ¿Qué es la persecución?

Los crímenes de lesa humanidad son uno de los cuatro crímenes atroces definidos en el derecho internacional.[1] La primera acusación por crímenes contra la humanidad ocurrió después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Se basaba en la creencia de que ciertos crímenes son una afrenta a la conciencia de la humanidad. La comunidad internacional trató de garantizar que no hubiera impunidad por los crímenes que violen la esencia de la dignidad humana.

Uno de ellos es el crimen de la persecución.

Persecución: un crimen de lesa humanidad

La jurisprudencia sobre crímenes de lesa humanidad fue desarrollada por dos tribunales creados ad hoc por el Consejo de Seguridad de las Naciones Unidas: el Tribunal Penal Internacional para la ex Yugoslavia (TPIY) y el Tribunal Internacional para Ruanda (TPIR).

LEE MÁS

Language Matters: What is Persecution?

Crimes against humanity are one of four atrocity crimes defined in international law.[1] The first prosecution for crimes against humanity happened after the Second World War. It was underpinned by the belief that certain crimes are an affront to the very conscience of mankind.  The international community sought to ensure there would be no impunity for crimes that violate the essence of human dignity.

One of them is the crime of persecution.

Persecution – a crime against humanity.

Jurisprudence on crimes against humanity was developed by two ad hoc tribunals created by the United Nations Security Council: the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Continue reading “Language Matters: What is Persecution?”

Long read: The history of religious persecution in Egypt

In November 2018, seven Coptic Christians were killed and 18 injured when terrorists attacked the bus they were travelling in to visit the Monastery of Anba Samuel the Confessor in Minya, Upper Egypt. The attack took place in the same location where 28 Coptic Christians were killed and 23 injured less than 18 months previously by masked gunmen who opened fire on the vehicles they were travelling in.

These violent attacks are part of a wider, longer term pattern of religious discrimination and persecution faced by Egypt’s Coptic community. The term ‘persecution’ is not used lightly; according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, persecution is ‘the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity.’

In order to understand the root causes of religious persecution in contemporary Egypt, it is important to examine the ideological, socio-political and cultural factors that have historically underpinned the persecution of religious minorities in the country.

Continue reading “Long read: The history of religious persecution in Egypt”

Does a thaw in relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia offer hope for Christians?

A thick layer of dust coats everything inside the Eritrean embassy in the Ethiopian capital, which was unlocked this week for the first time since 1998. Photos of this ‘time capsule’ were published by the BBC, which, along with the world’s media, is charting the remarkable thaw in relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The two nations went to war in 1998 but maintained a war footing due to Ethiopia’s refusal to allow demarcation of their common border, in accordance with a 2003 ruling.

Continue reading “Does a thaw in relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia offer hope for Christians?”