Iran Detains Evangelical Pastor; Whereabouts Unknown

 

By BosNewsLife Middle East Service

Reported crackdown comes amid concerns of officials about spread of Christianity in Iran.
Reported crackdown comes amid concerns of officials about spread of Christianity in Iran.


TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- The whereabouts of an evangelical pastor in Iran remained unknown Saturday, August 27, some 10 days after he was detained by Iranian security forces as part of a reported government crackdown on Christian converts, BosNewsLife established.

Abdolreza ‘Matthias’ Haghnejad, of the evangelical Church of Iran denomination, "was re-arrested August 17" by Iranian authorities in the northern city of Rasht while making a pastoral visit, according to Iranian Christians and human rights investigators.

Pastor Haghnejad, from the nearby seaport city of Bandar-e Anzali, has not been able to contact his family and "it is believed he is being held without access to an attorney," said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

This year the pastor was also detained along with ten other members of his denomination, a major network of underground house churches, on charges of "activities against the order" but he was later released, fellow Christians said.

Previously, the pastor was reportedly detained in 2006.

CHRISTIAN WOMAN DETAINED

Shortly before his arrest, in late July, a Christian woman, Leila Mohammadi, was arrested in Tehran after police raided her house, Iranian Christians said.

She was reportedly transferred to Tehran's notorious Evin prison. A man was also reportedly detained temporarily in connection with this case, CSW said.

Additionally, a consignment of 6,500 Bibles was confiscated this month, after it was being transported between the cities of Zanjan and Ahbar in the north-western province of Zanjan, according to Iranian Christians familiar with the case.

GOVERNMENT CONCERNED

The reported crackdown comes amid fresh reports that government officials have warned of "the danger of spreading Christianity" in this strict Islamic, but youthful, nation.

"Islam approves Christianity in general, but with regard to the religious teachings of Christianity, unfortunately we witness the spread of Christianity among our youth," reportedly said Ayatollah Hadi Jahangosha, an influential Islamic scholar with links to the government.

Earlier, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the growing house churches.

The Shiite Scholar also warned about the widespread publication and distribution of Christian books for children, reported Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News.

"One of these children books with [a] Christian subject has been published in 53 million volumes and in 128 different languages...It can even be found in the smallest towns across Iran," the agency of Iranian activists quoted him as saying.

MISSIONARIES CONDEMNED

Majid Abhari, an adviser to the social issues committee of the Iranian parliament, has defended a crackdown saying Christian missionaries are trying to "deceive people, especially the youth, with an expensive propaganda campaign," BosNewsLife reported earlier.

CSW said it was concerned that this rhetoric is the latest in a stream of condemnations of Christians "from members of the Iranian regime, who have attempted to demonize Christians as western-backed conspirators, ‘parasites’
and ‘like the Taliban,’."

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “These latest arrests are extremely concerning, as is the increase in hostile and unwarranted rhetoric on the part of Iranian officials against evangelical Christians."

He said his group has urged urged to adhere to international agreements, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  "Those who, like the pastor, have been arrested must either be charged and tried in a timely manner or released, and all detainees must be allowed contact with their families and lawyers.”

Iran's government says however it has a duty to defend "Islamic values." (With BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).

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