By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Up to 70 Christians have been detained in Iran as part of a government crackdown on evangelical believers, BosNewsLife established Saturday, January 8. Most of those behind bare are thought to be former Muslims.
Iranian church representatives said the latest crackdown began in the early morning hours after Christmas day, when 25 Christians were detained in the capital Tehran and other locations. “They also planned to detain sixteen others, but were unable to locate them. There are also unconfirmed reports that the authorities have arrested over 50 other Christians,” said Elam Ministries, a group of Iranian church leaders and their supporters.
Local authorities have reportedly vowed to arrest more evangelical Christians who are seen as less observant to religious rituals, but emphasize an ongoing “personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ” and want to spread the Gospel.
One of those detained was able to make a call to friends from an unknown location on the morning of the arrests, leaving a in which the Christian apparently even apologized for being detained around Christmas. “Unfortunately early this morning the authorities came to our homes. They arrested us and many other believers. I want to ask you to pray for us,” Elam Ministries cited the message as saying. “We are sure God will never leave us or forsake us. God bless you.
Sorry for giving you bad news over Christmas, but I believe God will do something for us.”
Those who received the voice message were impressed by the caller’s courage and calmness, Elam Ministries added.
It said armed, plain-clothes, special security officers forcefully entered the homes of Christians while they were asleep, and “verbally and physically abused them”.
They were reportedly handcuffed and taken for interrogation. “Among those arrested were five married couples.
One couple was separated from their two-year old baby. Another couple was also forced to leave their baby that the mother was breast feeding. A number of single young women were also among those taken,” Elam Ministries explained.
Security forces broke into at least five such homes, ransacking them, taking personal possessions, changing the locks and placing a government seal on the door, Iranian Christians said. “Family members of these Christians have been called by the authorities and threatened and harassed. They were instructed to tell the Christians to surrender themselves,” Elam Ministries explained
After what the group called “many hours of interrogation”, eleven of the detained were released. “The other fourteen are still in prison.”
There has been no contact from eight of those arrested, Elam Ministries said. Only “six have been able to make a very short call to their families.
In one of the brief calls, one of the arrested complained that they are being subjected to sleep deprivation.”
Elam Ministries said none of the detained Christians have been granted any legal representation. “No charges have been made, though it is clear that they were arrested for their active Christian faith. There has been a gross lack of due process, the government authorities have not provided any written documents as to the reason for the arrests, any record of the items confiscated, and family members are not allowed to visit the detained.”
Elam Ministries said Iranian Christians had urged fellow believers to pray for their protection and ability to continue being “a witness” for Christ. Iran recently denied violating religious minorities’ rights as charged in an annual report by the United States government, whom it accused of being the “biggest violator” of Muslim rights.
The United States charged that “government respect for religious freedom continued to deteriorate in Iran” and that even Muslims who are not from the majority Shiite group faced “substantial societal discrimination.”
In a statement carried by state news agency IRNA, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast hit back accusing the US of infringing the religious rights of Muslims. “The US government expresses concern about the situation of some fake cults fabricated by English colonialists and Zionists while … it is the biggest violator of Muslims’ religious rights.”