By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iranian authorities detained and mistreated three Christian converts amid a wider crackdown on what the country's Islamic leadership calls "evangelical and extremist" Christians, activists said Saturday, August 10.
Farshid Modares-Aval, Mohammad-Reza Pirri, and Yashar Farzin-No, were reportedly captured July 20 in raids by security authorities in the northern city of Tabriz.
The three Christian men were transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence's detention center in Tabriz prison where they remained Saturday, August 10, Iranian activists said.
During the interrogation, the three Christians were allegedly beaten. "This was so brutal in the case of Mohammad-Reza Pirri that he had to be hospitalized in prison's hospital for four days," said Mohabat News, an agency of Iranian Christians and activists.
Security forces reportedly also searched the homes of the Christian detainees, seizing several personal belongings.
NO REASONS PROVIDED
Officials have so far declined to reveal the reasons for the arrests to their families, Christians familiar with the case said. Authorities allegedly told them to remain silent in exchange for information about their loved ones. Family members decided to seek publicity after officials refused to provide more details about the health situation of the men.
The detentions came shortly after website Ya Lasarat, affiliated with the Ansar-e Hezbollah Islamic militant group, reportedly warned of "the threat of evangelical Christians and house churches", expressing concern over the growth of Christianity in Iran, especially in Tabriz.
The apparent crackdown follows last week's news that Mohammad-Hadi (Mostafa) Bordbar, a 27-year-old resident of the city of Rasht was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on what his supporters called false charges linked to his evangelical activities.
"The crackdown against Christians in Iran is mostly targeted towards what the Islamic regime calls "evangelical and extremist" Christians and "a threat against the Islamic regime", Mohabat News commented in a statement to BosNewsLife.
"However, in reality all these arrested Christians are members of small Christian groups who gather in their houses for worship and Christian celebrations, out of sight of the authorities who do not allow these gatherings," the agency explained.
"POLITICAL GROUPS" ALLEGATIONS
Islamic officials have described house churches as dangerous "political groups" linked to foreign government intended to overthrow the Islamic leadership.
Majid Abhari, Counsel at the Social Committee of Islamic Parliament of Iran, said recently he was concerned about the growth of Christianity in Azeri-speaking regions and suggested that the growth of house churches must be stopped, Mohabat News reported.
He reportedly said 6,500 Bibles were confiscated at a roadside checkpoint near one of the Azeri-speaking towns.
Evangelical Christians have denied their groups threaten national security, saying the "sole reason for these gatherings is to worship God with no political intentions". They say authorities have "failed" to provide evidence of alleged threats to national security.
Despite the crackdown, church groups claim there are at least 100,000 evangelical Christians in this strict Islamic nation.
There had been hope that Iran's new President Hasan Rouhani would provide more protection for minorities, including Christians. However the former lead nuclear negotiator will "not be allowed to do that without the approval" of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei," cautioned Firouz Khandjani, a key official of the evangelical Church or Iran movement.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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