By Eric Leijenaar, BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent
TEHRAN/AMSTERDAM (BosNewsLife)– Iran has detained dozens of Christians in the last two weeks, including former Muslims, and at least eight of them remain imprisoned, a well-informed advocacy group told BosNewsLife Wednesday, August 12.
“It seems that the Iranian government views Christians and other religious minorities as endangering the regime,” said Netherlands-based Open Doors about the reported arrests of 32 Christians in the village of Amameh and the northern town of Rasht.
Iranian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Open Doors said the latest raid occurred July 31 when police apparently stormed a home Amameh, north of the capital Tehran. “A group of 24 Christians, all of them ex-Muslims, gathered for Bible study. They were taken to their own homes and police confiscated their passports, other documents, money, compact disks, books, computers and mobile phones,” Open Doors added.
At least seven Christians of this group remained detained Wednesday, August 12, Christians said. They were identified as Shahnam Behjatollah en six others only by their first names Shaheen, Maryam, Mobinaa, Mehdi, Ashraf and Nariman.
A week later the released Christians were interrogated at the police station about their Christian activities, Open Doors quoted a local Christian as saying. In Rasht police detained eight Christians on July 29 and July 30, the advocacy group said. The believers are believed to belong to the same network as the detained Christians in Amameh. One man of those detained in Rasht was still behind bars Wednesday, August 12, Open Doors said.
Open Doors spokesman Jan Vermeer linked the arrests to reported “divisions within the regime,” following the recent disputed presidential election. “Previously people heard only one opinion in the [state-run] media, now there are discussions at the highest levels. It seems that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters do everything to keep their power over the country.”
As part of their strategy, he said, the government is cracking down on opposition groups, Christians and other religious groups who they view as “a risk” to their future. He said “the current persecution of minorities” resembles past practises.
The latest reported detentions comes on the heels of a trial against two young imprisoned women who could face the death penalty for becoming Christians. Christian trial observers said a ‘revolutionary’ court in Tehran pressured Maryam Rustampoor, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh, 30, on Sunday, August 9, to return to Islam.
“Though great pressure was put on them, both women declared that they would not deny their faith,” the Christians told BosNewsLife.
Both women, who reportedly suffer health problems, were detained March 5 for converting to Christianity. They endured solitary confinement, interrogations “for many hours while blindfolded” and other mistreatment in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, well-informed Christians said.
Open Doors said it has launched a letter campaign for Christians in Iran. “As [President] Ahmadinejad begins his second term as president, Open Doors asks him to guarantee religious freedom to all Farsi speaking Christians…and to free those detained for their faith [in Christ].”