By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iran’s government has launched a massive crackdown on devoted Christians, including church leaders, as part of efforts to halt the growing Christian church in the Islamic nation, Iranian Christians and rights activists said Friday, April 23.
Additionally two young women face new charges after their recent released from prison for embracing Christianity despite their Muslim background, BosNewsLife established.
Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad and Maryam Rustampoor appeared in front of a court last week where they were told that a criminal investigation was launched into their alleged involvement in propagating Christianity and of apostasy, said Middle East Concern (MEC),
a major human rights group.
They were released in November amid international pressure after Rustampoor after spending 259 days in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
In another recent incident, on April 14, undercover security officers physically assaulted and detained Pastor Bahnam Irani, said Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), which represents Iranian Christians.
FCNN said officers introduced themselves as agents of the Ministry of Information before invading Pastor Irani’s house-church in Karaj and taking him to an undisclosed location.
Some 10 believers attending the worship, who recently embraced Christianity, were forced to complete prepared documents revealing the activities and whereabouts of church leaders, Iranian Christians said. The attendees were reportedly told that they would be summoned to further questioning at a later date.
It was no isolated incident.
Christian rights activists said that in a similar occurrence, on April 11, Iran’s Ministry of Information arrested 19 year old Daniel Shahri in his home in Isfahan. “When entering, the officers rendered an arrest warrant issued by the revolutionary court on charges of Internet related activity and forming a house-church,” said U.S-based International Christian Concern (ICC).
The third reported arrest occurred on February 28, when Hamid Shafiee and his wife, Reyhaneh Aghajary, were forcefully taken from their home in Isfahan. “As of now, they remain in prison and are in poor health still awaiting charges to be brought against them,” ICC added.
“As is often the case, arrests of Christians occur collectively and systematically. Once one Christian group is detained, security forces acquire additional information from interrogations, and from investigations of confiscated cell phones and computers which disclose the location of more Christians,” the group added in a statement.
Some Christians have managed to flee prosecution, Christians said. In one of the latest such cases, Mohammad Azbari, a Christian convert from Islam, reportedly received asylum in Kenya with his family on grounds of “religious persecution in Iran”.
ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, Aidan Clay, said “Iran fears the growth of the church, viewing it as a political and religious threat.” Clay called the reported arrests “part of an ongoing tactic to torment, afflict and ultimately destroy the church.” Yet, “just the opposite is happening in Iran. The church is not dying, but rather growing and maturing,” the official added.
Clay said ICC has demanded the release of the detained Christians as “Freedom of religion must be a right of all people, and violations to that freedom must be fiercely condemned.”
Iranian officials have not commented on the latest cases, but the government has often described reports of human rights abuses as Western and American propaganda.