By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iran's security forces detained eight members of a nationwide Protestant church movement in Tehran Friday, June 18, as part of a government crackdown on the growing number of Christians in the strict Islamic nation, a Christian leader told BosNewsLife.
"New people including a family member, were arrested this morning," confirmed a senior pastor of the Church of Iran movement who asked not to be identified for security reasons.
He said they were detained after security forces raided a prayer meeting in the Iranian capital where the Christians prayed for fellow believers who were jailed in earlier raids. "My mother has narrowly escaped arrest, but the threat remains," he said in an interview.
The church leader added that those detained included a pastors wife, Fatemeh Kojouri Tork, Mehdi and Mina Kerbalayi and their mother, Nahid. He identified the other arrested Christians only as 'Brother Afshin', 'Sister Mahsa', 'Brother Mid' and 'Sister Nasrin'.
Christians of the movement often call each other "brothers and sisters" as they believe to be God's children, a reference to the Bible, after accepting "His son Jesus Christ" as "Lord and Savior."
The latest arrests came shorly after Iranian police re-arrested Church of Iran Pastor Behrouz Sadegh in the southwestern city of Shiraz, the Christian leader said. Behrouz, who has been detained in the past, "went to Shiraz for his last defense Wednesday, June 16, but as soon as he went to the court, he was arrested by the Political Police," before security forces also detained his wife, he added.
In recent days, Iranian forces also captured Pastor Behnam Irani in the city of Karaj, 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) west of Tehran, and Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and his wife Fatemeh Pasandideh in the city of Rasht in northwestern Iran, BosNewsLife learned.
The senior pastor talking to BosNewsLife said he remains concerned about the whereabouts of the Christians. "The rest of the family and relatives have no means of communication," he added. "And by also arrresting the wife of pastor Youcef Nadarkhani they are trying to put more pressure on the pastors."
Elam Ministries, a group of Iranian church leaders, has linked the crackdown to concern within Iran's government about the spread of Christianity in the country.
"Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world," the group said.
It claimed that the number of Christians has grown from 500 known believers in 1979 to at least 100,000 today. Church leaders have reportedly said that "millions" can be added "to the church in the next few years-such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime."
There has been international pressure on Iran's rulers to allow more religious freedom. In May Iran acquitted on all charges two young women who were detained last year apparently for their Christian faith and activities and abandoning Islam.
However Maryam Rostampour, 28, and Marzieh Amirizadeh, 31, left Iran after being warned by judicial authorities "that any future Christian activity in Iran will be seriously dealt with," added well-informed Elam Ministries.