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Pastor, wife flee Iran to escape 15 years’ imprisonment for house church evangelism

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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.

Sources: Christian Post

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Priests and monks abducted in Haiti have been released

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HAITI – The remaining Catholic clergy who were kidnapped in Haiti earlier in April have been released, a missionary group said Friday.

The Society of Priests of Saint Jacques said the clergy were freed but did not say if a ransom had been paid.

A total of 10 people were abducted in Croix-des-Bouquets, a town northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince, on April 11, including the seven clergy — three of whom have already been released.

The clergy members were a group of four priests and a nun from Haiti, as well as one priest and one nun from France. The three non-clergy were members of the family of a Haitian priest, who was not among those kidnapped.

“Our hearts are filled with joy because we have found our colleagues, the sisters and the family members of Father Jean Anel Joseph in good health,” the missionary society said in a statement, without specifying whether a ransom has been paid.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is plagued by insecurity and natural disasters.

Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.

Haiti’s government resigned and a new prime minister was appointed in the wake of the kidnappings, a move President Jovenel Moise said “will make it possible to address the glaring problem of insecurity and continue discussions with a view to reaching the consensus necessary for the political and institutional stability of our country.”

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New Jersey Government with the announced  give free beer to Covid vaccine recipients

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday announced a new bid to boost coronavirus vaccinations: Receive your first dose in May and get a free beer.

“We’re not going to be afraid to try new things,” Murphy said as he unveiled the new program, dubbed “Shot and a Beer,” at a press briefing.

Thirteen New Jersey-based breweries are participating in the program — which is only available to state residents ages 21 years and older, Murphy specified.

Those New Jerseyans will have to show their vaccine cards as proof before receiving their reward, the Democratic governor said.

The breweries themselves are footing the bill for the free drinks, said Murphy, who suggested more beer-makers could soon be added to the list.

The breweries currently participating are: Battle River Brewing, Bradley Beer Project, Bolero Snort Brewing Company, Brix City Brewing Company, Carton Brewing Company, Flounder Brewing Company, Flying Fish Brewing Company, Gaslight Brewery and Restaurant, Hackensack Brewing Company, Kane Brewing Company, Little Dog Brewing Company, Magnify Brewing Company and River Horse Brewing Company.

The program came from the New Jersey Department of Health in partnership with the Brewer’s Guild of New Jersey.

The Garden State is hardly the first to propose an outside-the-box incentive for people to get vaccinated.

West Virginia’s Republican Gov. Jim Justice last week announced an initiative to give $100 savings bonds to younger state residents who get vaccinated.

Connecticut is offering its own alcoholic incentive with its “Drinks On Us” campaign: Residents who get fully vaccinated and show their vaccine cards at certain restaurants will score a free drink between May 19 and May 31.

Incentive or no, vaccine rates are rising. More than 29% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University, and cases and deaths from Covid are on the decline.

But a significant number of Americans say they are not willing to get vaccinated. A Monmouth University poll published in mid-April found that about 1-in-5 Americans say they won’t get the shot.

That’s prompting health officials and leaders at every level of government to urge more people to seek out and receive their vaccinations.

The “Shot and a Beer” campaign is just one piece of New Jersey’s broader slate of programs aimed at returning the state to a more normal summer as the fight against the pandemic continues.

Murphy announced the free-beer plan after detailing the “Grateful for the Shot” initiative, which makes it possible for congregants to go from religious services directly to vaccination sites.

It’s “perhaps at the other end of the spectrum” of incentives, Murphy said.

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