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Brussesls correspondent for The European Times.
Willy Fautré, former chargé de mission at the Cabinet of the Belgian Ministry of Education and at the Belgian Parliament. He is the director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), an NGO based in Brussels that he founded in December 1988. His organization defends human rights in general with a special focus on ethnic and religious minorities, freedom of expression, women’s rights and LGBT people. HRWF is independent from any political movement and any religion. Fautré has carried out fact-finding missions on human rights in more than 25 countries, including in perilous regions such as in Iraq, in Sandinist Nicaragua or in Maoist held territories of Nepal. He is a lecturer in universities in the field of human rights. He has published many articles in university journals about relations between state and religions. He is a member of the Press Club in Brussels. He is a human rights advocate at the UN, the European Parliament and the OSCE.
The persecution of Christians in Iran was the focus of the presentation of the 2023 World Watch List of the Protestant NGO Open Doors yesterday, Thursday 25 January, at the European Parliament (EP). According to their report, 360 million Christians around the world suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith, 5621 Christians were murdered and 2110 church buildings were attacked last year.
The event was hosted by MEP Peter Van Dalen and MEP Miriam Lexmann (EPP group).
Peter Van Dalen commented on the damning Open Doors report as follows:
MEP Nicola Beer (Renew Europe Group), one of the EP Vice-presidents, had a special address focusing on the positive and constructive role of religious communities in democratic societies and consequently the necessity to defend freedom of religion or belief.
Ms Dabrina Bet-Tamraz, a Protestant from the Assyrian ethnic minority in Iran, who is now living in Switzerland, had been invited to testify about the persecution of Christians in Iran, through the example of her own family.
For many years, Dabrina’s father, Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, and her mother, Shamiran Issavi Khabizeh were sharing their faith with Farsi-speaking Muslims, which is forbidden in Iran, and were training converts.
Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz was officially recognised as a minister by the Iranian government and led the Shahrara Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Tehran for many years until the Interior Ministry closed it down in March 2009 for holding services in Farsi – it was then the last church in Iran to hold services in the language of the Iranian Muslims. The church was later allowed to reopen under a new leadership, with services conducted in Assyrian only. Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and his wife then moved into house church ministry, hosting meetings in their home.
Dabrina’s parents were arrested in 2014 but were released on bail. In 2016, they were sentenced to ten years in prison. Their appeal hearing was postponed several times until 2020. When it was obvious that the prison term would be maintained, they decided to leave Iran. They now live with their daughter who had fled to Switzerland in 2010.
In the meantime, she had studied Evangelical theology in the UK and she is now a pastor in a German-speaking church in Switzerland. Her campaign for religious freedom in Iran has taken her to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, to the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington DC and to a UN General Assembly, apart from many other events.
At the European Parliament in Brussels, she called on the Iranian authorities to
She asked the international community, including the European Union, to hold Iran accountable for its mistreatment of religious minorities. She urged the Iranian authorities to uphold their obligation to ensure freedom of religion and belief for all their citizens in conformity with the international instruments they have signed and ratified.
MEP Miriam Lexmann, from Slovakia, a former Communist country, pointed at the anti-religious nature of the Marxist ideology imposed on her country for decades after WWII. She made a vibrant plea for freedom of conscience and belief, saying:
MEP Nicola Beer, from Germany, stressed that religious communities play a major role in our democratic countries, contribute to the stability of our societies and provide assistance to the most vulnerable persons through their caritative organizations.
During the debate with the numerous audience, MEP Peter Van Dalen was challenged about the efficiency of sanctions taken by the European Union. His answer was very convincing:
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