By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iranian Christian songwriter and church worker Alireza Seyyedian was detained Wednesday, March 14, at the Iranian-Turkish border while trying to flee Iran, a friend who assists him told BosNewsLife.
Jason DeMars, director of advocacy group Present Truth Ministries, said Seyyedian was captured by Iranian security forces while “attempting” to enter Turkey, apparently in hope to avoid a long prison sentence.
“Earlier this year he was sentenced to six years in prison for action against national security and propaganda against the order,” De Mars said.
An Iranian Christian who knows him well told BosNewsLife he received the sentence after being baptized in Turkey. “Many Christians are baptized in secret in Turkey. In the verdict they said that the goal of Protestants is the destruction of Islam,” said the Christian, Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the Church of Iran house
“It means if they had enough place in prisons, they would put 500 million persons in jail,” he added.
Iranian authorities have also been angered by Seyyedian’s involvement in church meetings which they reportedly described as part of efforts to “perform crimes against national security”.
Additionally, Iranian prosecutors are outraged about his “distribution of Bibles among the youth” and the “sharing of worship hymns that he has written” with, for instance, satellite broadcasters, explained DeMars.
He added that Iranian officials have accused him of “propaganda for the Jesus only cult” a reference often used to describe home churches.
DeMars, who has close knowledge about the situation, said he had urged supporters of his group to “pray for brother Alireza, that the Lord would grant him courage and strength through this trial [and] that He would bless [him] for the stand that he is taking for Jesus” so that “he would continue to be a light and witness to those around him, even in prison.”
Rights activists view Seyyedian’s detention as is part of a wider crackdown on devoted Christians in Iran. “Imprisonment, intimidation and even threats to life have increasingly become the government’s response to Iranians who convert, join house-churches, or proselytize their faith,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, in an earlier interview with BosNewsLife.
Iranian officials have denied wrongdoing, saying they defend “Islamic values”. Christians linked the reported crackdown to concerns among Iran’s government about the spread of Christianity in this predominantly Islamic nation.
“Islam approves Christianity in general, but with regard to the religious teachings of Christianity, unfortunately we witness the spread of Christianity among our youth,” said Ayatollah Hadi Jahangosha, an influential Islamic scholar close to the government in recent reported comments.
Christian groups say there are at least 100,000 devoted Christians in Iran, many of them former Muslims, while some church organizations estimate that number to be several times higher.
Officially 98 percent of Iran’s roughly 78 million people are Muslims.