International News

Iran Arrests 80 Evangelicals, Amid Fears of New Crackdown on Christians

Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2004 at 03:27 PM CT


TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife) — Iranian police invaded the annual conference of Iran’s Assemblies of God and arrested at least 80 church leaders at the church’s denominational center near Tehran as part of the worst crack down on evangelical believers in a decade, a Christian news agency reported Friday, September 10.

Compass news agency said security forces raided the meeting "without warning" in Karaj, 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of the capital, after they surrounded the church’s garden property Thursday, September 9.

Eyewitnesses were quoted as saying that all men and women present at the first day of their annual meetings were detained. "The police came from everywhere," an Iranian Christian reportedly said. "There were a lot of them."

The Christian, whose name was not identified apparently for security reasons, claimed that "every single person present was put under arrest, blindfolded and taken in for interrogation."

Compass, which has close contacts with persecuted Christians in the region, said that the detained believers were driven around blindfolded for several hours so they would be unable to understand where they were being taken.

Each of them were reportedly questioned separately by security officials, and the questions revealed that authorities had very precise information about each person, including his or her activities, relatives and other personal data, Compass said, quoting Iranian sources.

Although most of the evangelical leaders were released, ten male pastors were still in custody, and their where whereabouts are unknown to their families, who have not been allowed to contact them, the news agency said.

"This is the biggest crisis for evangelical believers in the country since three Protestant pastors were murdered 10 years ago," another unidentified Iranian source told Compass.

ORDAINED MINISTERS

Six ordained ministers were named among the prisoners, identified by their given names of Vartan, Soren, Harmik, George, Omid and Farhad. Another two men serving as pastors and two church elders were identified as Neshan, Hamid, Henry and Robert. The pastors serve in congregations located in Tehran, Urumiyeh, Rasht, Ahwaz, Boshahr and Karaj.

All the evangelicals released Thursday night were forbidden to attend church services Friday, the weekly day of rest in Iran when most churches meet for worship, Compass reported. "Anyway, all their pastors are now under arrest, so there will be no one to preach when the congregations gather for services," its source said.

"As the world’s only theocracy, Iran has strictly proscribed the activities of its evangelical Christian citizens, closing down their churches and arresting known converts to Christianity. Under Islamic law, apostates who leave Islam are subject to the death penalty," Compass commented.

Iranian officials have not commented on the case.



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