TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iranian Christians are concerned about the plight of eight prominent church workers who they say face lengthy prison terms and torture following an appeal hearing and further detentions this week.
Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh, and Saheb Fadaie are appealing 10-year prison sentences received for their involvement in house churches and allegedly promoting "Zionist Christianity", BosNewsLife learned.
Nadarkhani and Omidi were also sentenced to two years' internal exile, according to Christians familiar with the situation. Pastor Nadarkhani has to stay in Nik Shahr and Omidi in Borazjan. "Both of these locations are in the south of the country, far away from their families in Rasht," noted Middle East Concern (MEC), an advocacy group monitoring their case.
Omidi, Mossayebzadeh, and Fadaie also face separate charges of consumption of alcohol when taking communion at the time of their arrest in 2016. In September last year, they were sentenced to 80 lashes each and their appeal against this verdict remains outstanding, trial observers said.
Critics have linked the charges to their involvement in the Church of Iran, one of the country's largest evangelical denominations whose members often meet in homes. Iranian Christians said they request prayer for the four Christian converts who, following an appeal court hearing last Wednesday, December 13, are waiting for the court's decision.
Their hearing came a day after security forces raided homes and detained four church ministers in the city of Karaj, northwest of Tehran, Christians told BosNewsLife.
The detained men were named as Amin Khaki and Milad Goudarzi, who were captured in their homes, and Shahab Shahi and Alireza Nourmohamadi, who were arrested during church meetings, BosNewsLife learned. "They are being held in an unknown location and have not been allowed to speak to their families or anyone else," added mission group Present Truth Ministries (PTM), which represents Christians targeted by Iranian authorities.
"It seems certain that they will be held in solitary confinement in a [Ministry of Intelligence also known as] VEVAK prison facility," PTM explained in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Christians with knowledge about the situation said that VEVAK forces broke into the homes and interrupted church meeting, confiscating cell phones, laptops, literature, and books including Bibles.
"Our sources ask that you remember what these brothers are suffering and pray for them on a daily basis," PTM said in a "prayer appeal" to its supporters. "They endure being mocked, humiliated, beaten and are under severe psychological torture," PTM said.
Iranian Christians reportedly asked to pray that they "have the strength to stand firm in their faith" as well as the "mental clarity to be a witness to the truth" and that their "wives will receive peace, comfort, and protection from the Lord."
Iranian authorities have often defended arrests of devoted Christians saying the government must defend Islam. Officials claim that those detained are violating laws and, for instance, "threaten the security" and violate the show no respect values of the Islamic state.
Amid reported persecution churches continue to grow, according to Iranian church leaders and missionaries. "In 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today the most conservative estimate is that there are at least 360,000 believers in the nation," said well-informed mission group Elam Ministries.
Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years-as "such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime," the group added.