By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iranian security forces have raided a house church and detained 10 members who gathered for a prayer service as part of a winder crackdown, Iranian Christians said Thursday, February 9.
The detainees were reportedly transferred from a home in the city of Shiraz, some 934 kilometers (580 miles) south of the capital, to an unknown destination.
Their location "is still unknown despite their family's efforts," said Mohabat News, an independent news agency of Iranian Christians and rights activists.
Iranian authorities reportedly declined to provide more information.
Among those held is a Christian man, identified as Mojtaba Hosseini, who was already detained in 11 May, 2008 along with eight other Christian converts on charges of "apostasy" or abandoning Islam, Iranian Christians said.
Security officials allegedly pressured the then 21-year-old Mojtaba Hosseini to renounce his faith and collaborate with Iran's feared intelligence service. He apparently refused to cooperate.
Iran's government has denied wrongdoing and says it wants to defend Islamic values.
The reported detention comes amid a wider crackdown on Christian converts, including many former Muslims, rights activists and Christians told BosNewsLife.
"Today, the pressures and security measures implemented by the Islamic Republic against churches in Iran have resulted in the closure of churches in which services were being held in [the] Farsi [language]" explained Mohabat News.
"The other churches which are allowed to remain open, are obliged by order of the Intelligence Ministry to prevent Farsi speakers from entering their churches."
The latest reported detentions follow other known arrests of Christians in Iran. Among them is Pastor Behnam Irani, who recently began his five year imprisonment in the Ghezel Hesar detention center in the city of Karaj on what his supporters have called "trumped up" charges.
Additionally Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani faces possible execution for refusing to abandon his Christian faith and return to Islam, according to court documents seen by BosNewsLife.
Yet, despite these difficulties Christian converts continue to "feel the need to gather in small groups in their homes and dedicate their own personal houses for worship services", the agency said.
There may be as many as 100,000 devoted Christians in heavily Islamic Iran, according to conservative church group estimates, although other churches say there may be hundreds of thousands of Christians in the country.
In a reaction, Iran's Islamic government reportedly launched a campaign to promote the Sh'ite version of Islam both at home and in North Africa and the Sunni nations of the Gulf, Christians told BosNewsLife.
"ENEMIES OF ISLAM"
Last year, an influential Iranian official accused "enemies of Islam" of donating money to the rapidly growing house churches in the strict Islamic nation.
In published remarks, Hojatoleslam Tarashioon, the general director of Comparative Religious Studies of Medhi Seminary in Qom, said the "enemies" donate at least $50,000 annually to house churches that often have memberships of up to 20 members.
It was not clear on what information he based these figures.
"This cult in recent years has become active and today they work under the pretext of cultural and educational centers and have expanded their activities in several provinces," he said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife Tuesday, July 5.
Iranian Christians have made clear that it is difficult to provide financial aid to house churches as they are forced to operate underground.