By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
BAGHDAD, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iran this month released at least four former Muslims who were detained because of their conversion to Christianity and Christian activities, according to friends and rights activists.
The advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC) confirmed to BosNewsLife that a Christian woman, Ladan N., 26, and a Christian man, Hooman H., 27, were freed on bail June 10 as they paid 325,000 dollars each after one week of solitary confinement and 58 days of regular detention in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
Christians did not reveal the full names of the young Iranians amid security concerns.
Iranian authorities reportedly charged them with "apostasy", or abandoning Islam, as well as "actions against national security" which officials said included "desecrating holy figures" on the Internet, attending unauthorized house churches and "going to a party to celebrate the baptism of a Christian believer."
The two Christian converts were allegedly often interrogated along with their summoned parents.
Also on June 10, Iran released Pastor Mehdi “Petros” Foroutan who served about one year in Abel Abad Prison in the city of Shiraz, following a police crackdown on his and other house churches, a spokesman told BosNewsLife earlier.
Jason DeMars, who helped the 27-year-old pastor with advocacy, explained that Foroutan was released after his jail sentence for "crimes against national security" because of his Christian faith."
Additional death-sentence-carrying charges of "blasphemy", the word used for "abandoning Islam", were dropped, Christians said earlier.
He one of five Christians who were summoned in September 2011 to arrive at the detention facility to serve the prison term. A summon against another believer was eventually dropped, while three others "still need protection," MEC said.
Shortly before the pastor's release, authorities on June 7 freed a Christian woman, Forough Dashtiani, who was jailed with her husband Mehrdad Sajjadi last month.
The couple were detained by security forces in their house in Karaj city, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Tehran, explained the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, an independent watchdog.
Christians linked the detention to both the couple's conversion to Christianity and their Christian activities.
Mehrdad Sajjadi, 34, who remains detained without contact with his family, converted to Christianity from Islam 16 years ago and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Immanuel Presbyterian church in Tehran, Christians and activists said.
Forough Dashtianipour, whose father was reportedly executed in 1984 by the Iranian government for leftist political activities, also converted from Islam to Christianity and serves as a pastor in the same church, said the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center,
Iran has stepped up pressure on especially evangelical Christians, including former Muslims, according to church groups.
"At least 20 believers continue to be detained because of their Christian faith and activities" including Vahid Zarday, a former Muslim, who was "arrested during a raid on a house fellowship in Mashhad" on May 25, said MEC.
"Others present were also arrested, including his pregnant wife" who was soon released "after giving a signed undertaking to cooperate with the authorities," the group added in a statement.
Vahid's current condition and whereabouts remain unknown, and there is no news concerning the others detained in the same raid, the group told BosNewsLife.
In a statement distributed by MEC Iranian Christians supporting these believers said they have urged prayers that "Ladan, Hooman, Mehdi and Forough would know the comfort and healing of Jesus following their release" and that "Any outstanding formal charges against them, and other believers, will be dropped and bail payments returned."
MEC added that Christians have also asked prayers that "Those in prison will know the peace, presence and protection of God, be used to fulfill His purposes, and be released soon" and that their "families will know God's peace, presence and provision."
Government officials have expressed concerns about the spread of Christianity in the strict Islamic nation, and denied wrongdoing, saying their actions are aimed at defending Islamic values.
Iranian Christians said in a statement by MEC that they pray however that all Iranian officials would eventually "love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him."