By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– At least dozens of Christians detained as part of a massive crackdown on evangelicals in Iran remained behind bars Sunday, October 21, “in a hell on earth” and there were concerns about the health of a jailed prominent pastor, an official with close knowledge about the situation said.
“Only in the southern city of Shiraz we know of some 30 Christians who have been detained this month alone,” explained Firouz Khandjani, council member of the evangelical Church of Iran movement.
Among those held in Shiraz are eight Church of Iran members, he said. “They include our brother Massoud Rezaie. He and our sister Afsar Bahmani were summoned to appear at the police station by Friday” October 19, Khandjani told BosNewsLife.
“Sister Afsar remained only one day and got released, but brother Massoud remains detained.”
Within the Church of Iran, members are often called “brothers and sisters”, in reference to the Biblical view that believers are one body, and family, in Jesus Christ.
Others include Mohammad Roghangir, known locally as ‘Brother Vahid’, who led a house church meeting attended by some 15 people.
He was jailed October 12 with devoted believers Roxana Forughi, Suroush Saraie, Eskandar Rezaie,
Bijan Haghighi, Mehdi Ameruni and Shahin Lahooti, he said.
All of those detained are of an Islamic background, raising additional concerns they will
be tortured and otherwise pressured to commit to crimes they did not commit, Khandjani said.
“They are held at what is known as the Plaque 100 detention facility, the center of Iran’s
political police and intelligence service, which is really a Gestapo,” Khandjani said.
“It is a hell on earth created especially for dissidents and those deemed dangerous for
the Islamic regime, such as Christians,” he explained.
“There is torture and tiny cells are being shared by some four people,” added Khandjani, who himself was briefly detained for his Christian activities. “We can only show respect to those who are willing to stay in Plaque 100 because of their faith.”
He said there are reports that at least scores of Protestant, evangelical Christians of the many dragged to prisons across Iran this month, remain behind bars.
The reported crackdown comes at a time when Christians are already concerned about the health
situation of jailed Iranian pastor Behnam Irani, who potentially faces the death penalty for
“apostasy”, or abandoning Islam.
Christians said he suffers of “various medical problems” in part because of reported mistreatment at Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj city, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the nation’s capital Tehran.
In one of the latest health scares, Christians said he had “inflammatory bowel disease”.
Relatives told BosNewsLife that his health condition is “serious” but that he feels “stronger because of prayers.”
“Yes, prayers have a good impact. But we should continue to pray for him as his health remains an issue of concern,” Khandjani said.
Irani, who is in his 40s, began a one-year prison term in 2011 but was later told he would also have to serve a five-year, previously suspended.
There is also concern about a court verdict suggesting prosecutors to pursue the death penalty for “apostasy”, Khandjani added.
Iranian officials have denied wrongdoing saying those detained are either hardcore criminals or threatening Islamic values in the country where church groups estimate there are at least 100,000 evangelical believers.